Analects of Confucius Book 4: Confucius on leadership qualities

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The ability to assess a given situation objectively and take the most appropriate action based on the facts of it is one of the key leadership qualities that Confucius highlights in Book 4 of the Analects.

In Chapter 10, he underlines the importance of having a strong moral compass to guide your decisions and actions: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: he goes with what is right.” In Chapter 16, he further emphasizes the point when he says, “A leader is concerned about what is right; a petty person is concerned about what is in his own interest.”

In stark contrast to a petty person, a leader pursues “virtue” and “”justice” (4.11). He does not prize material possessions or attempt to find loopholes in the legal system that enable him to gain exemptions from it.

A leader, therefore, “never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal.” Even in the most difficult situations, he stays true to the path and never deviates from it (4.5). 

Confucius also offers practical advice on how to develop your leadership capabilities in the book. In Chapter 14, he urges: “Don’t care about not having an official position; care about making sure you have what it takes to secure one. Don’t care about not being acknowledged; focus on what can make you acknowledged.”

In Chapter 17, he adds: “When you meet people of exceptional character, think how you can become their equal. When you meet people of poor character, look inside and examine yourself.” In other words, it is your responsibility to reflect on your character and identify the areas you need to improve upon. While others can help point the way for you by positive or negative example, only you can commit yourself to follow it.

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