Leadership lessons from China: a trusting relationship

trusting relationship

When his ruler sent him a gift of pre-cooked food, he straightened his mat and was the first person to taste it. When his ruler sent him a present of raw meat, he cooked it and made an offering to his ancestors. When his ruler gave him a livestock, he reared it. When dining with his ruler, he was the first one to taste the food after the ruler had performed the sacrificial offering. (1) 

Trust is the key to a successful relationship. The stronger it is between two people, the easier it becomes for you to work together and understand each other’s thinking.

Trust is built through concrete actions that demonstrate your commitment to meeting mutual needs and obligations. When you achieve a trusting relationship do everything you can to treasure and nurture it. An empty word or thoughtless action may be all it takes to break it.


This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) With this passage we are back to the ritual conventions that Confucius (or a model gentleman) is said to have followed, this time when he received gifts of food from his ruler and when he went to visit his ruler for dinner. Note that he was required to show that he had total trust in his ruler by eating the pre-cooked food sent to him first rather than having one of his servants or retainers try it out beforehand to make sure it wasn’t spoiled or perhaps even poisoned. The ruler could of course have just been demonstrating great courtesy by having his guest eat first, but such a ritual would at the same time serve as a useful self-preservation mechanism.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan.

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