Leadership lessons from Confucius: pines and cypresses

pines and cypresses

Confucius said: “It’s only in the cold of winter that you realize that the pines and cypresses are the last to wither.”

It’s only when your back’s against the wall that you’ll find out what you’re really made of. Tough times and crises provide a test of character and ability like no other. Are you sure that you have the mental and physical toughness to withstand them like pines and cypresses in the winter? Do you possess the inner strength to remain calm while everyone else is losing their head around you?

The best way to prepare for such eventualities is through constant training and practice. Regular exercise is of particular importance in building up your resilience because it not only boosts your physical fitness and stamina but also gives you a much stronger mindset. By pushing you to your absolute limits and beyond, it injects a much greater sense of determination in you that can be applied to other aspects of your life.

Daily journal writing and meditations can also help you manage your thought processes and emotions more effectively and give you a greater sense of purpose and calm. They can also help you develop a much richer and deeper sense of perspective that will prove invaluable in weathering any future storms.

Just as the pines and cypresses use the summer to prepare for the travails of winter, make the best use of the good times to make sure you’re ready when the bad ones hit.


This article features a translation of Chapter 28 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius is most likely quoting an old saying to make the point that it’s only in challenging times that people reveal their true character. When times are good, it’s easy for people to hide their weaknesses and flaws.

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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