Leadership lessons from Confucius: the same path?

same path

子曰:「可與共學,未可與適道;可與適道,未可與立;可與立,未可與權。
Confucius said: “Those who learn together won’t necessarily take the same path; those who take the same path won’t necessarily stand together; those who stand together won’t necessarily exercise their judgment in the same manner.”

Education is about providing people with the intellectual tools they need to make good decisions in a complex and dynamic world. It’s not about attempting to ensure that everyone conforms to a certain set of pre-approved values. Even if you attempt to force everybody to sing from the same hymn book, their opinions will naturally diverge based on their own experiences of the world. There is no universal truth that applies to everything. There is no single right answer for resolving every problem. Life is far too nuanced and complex for that.

The role of the leader is to find common ground among people’s diverse opinions and values – not to push a particular line of thought down their throats. The more a leader attempts to compel people to behave in a certain way, the greater the ultimate backlash will be. They key is to build a culture that recognizes differences among people and encourages open discussion of them so that better decisions can be made for the common good rather than a specific individual or group.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 30 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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