Leadership lessons from Confucius: on role models

role models

Zizhang asked how to become a perfect person. Confucius said: “If you don’t follow the path others have trodden, you can’t enter the inner chamber.”

What kind of role model do you provide for your colleagues and members of your family? Are you even conscious that others will take their cues from how you act and behave accordingly? If you arrive on time for work every day, chances are that everyone else will too. But if you allow yourself a more flexible schedule, they’re just as likely to follow your example.

What kind of role models do you admire? Which relatives, teachers, colleagues, and bosses have shown you how you to conduct yourself and build a successful personal, family, and professional life? Give a quiet word of thanks to the ones who have already passed and see how you can support those who are still around.


This article features a translation of Chapter 20 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) There is no ideal translation for the term 善人 (shànrén). I have opted for “perfect person”; other possibilities include “good person/man” or even “efficacious person/man”. Confucius uses the term five times in the Analects. See 7.26, 13.11, and 13.29.

(2) Confucius is referring to the great sages of antiquity such as the legendary kings Yao and Shun in his response to Zizhang.

(3) “Enter the inner chamber” (入於室/rùyúshì) means to reach the highest level. See my comment in 11.15.

I took this image of these ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessels at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.

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