Leadership lessons from Confucius: the wise are never perplexed

The wise are never perplexed

Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.” (1)

Put in the time required to understand what’s really happening. Don’t take what other people have to say at face value. Question all your assumptions. Ignore all the fake narratives and bogus statistics designed to befuddle rather than enlighten you. Blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors until you reach such a state of clarity that you can make a decision without any doubts or second thoughts.

Embrace uncertainty rather than resist it. Analyze the opportunities and the threats and decide on your course of action. While others are flailing around trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it, you’re ready to swoop in and make your move.

Don’t confuse courage with recklessness. The reason you’re not afraid is because you’ve fully prepared yourself for this very moment. While others waste valuable time complaining about the vagaries of fate, you’ve already executed your plan and decided what your next step will be. Because they are in control of their thoughts and emotions and know the right time to take action, the wise are never perplexed.


This article features a translation of Chapter 29 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius makes a similar point in 14.28: “A leader adheres to three principles that I have been unable to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” In 12.4, he explains to his follower Sima Niu that a leader has no anxiety or fear because: “When he looks inside himself and finds nothing wrong, what does he have to be anxious about or fear?”

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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