Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

do the right thing

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”
季康子問政於孔子,孔子對曰:「政者正也,子帥以正,孰敢不正?」

The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.

(1) Confucius uses a pun on the sound and construction of the characters 政 (governance/zhèng) and 正 (correct/zhèng) in his response to Ji Kangzi. In addition to being homonyms, they both contain the same element (正) and are closely related in meaning. It’s highly unlikely that Confucius was showing any originality with his word play. He is probably repeating a traditional saying.

(2) Although Confucius heavily criticized Ji Kangzi, the strong man who was the real power in the state of Lu, for his corruption and flagrant disregard for the rules of propriety and ritual, that didn’t prevent him from having a close relationship with him. Indeed, he may have even been in his employ from time to time, as were many of his followers.

(3) For his part, Ji Kangzi regularly sought out Confucius’s advice even if he usually chose not to follow it. Despite Confucius’s rants against him, Ji went as far as inviting the sage to return to Lu after his long exile. Perhaps the two of them needed each other more than they cared to admit. You can read more about Ji Kangzi here.

I took this image in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.

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