Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the trust of the people

the trust of the people

子貢問「政」。子曰:「足食,足兵,民信之矣。」子貢曰:「必不得已而去,於斯三者何先?」曰:「去兵。」子貢曰:「必不得已而去,於斯二者何先?」曰:「去食。自古皆有死,民無信不立。」
Zigong asked about governance. Confucius said: “Enough food, enough weapons, and the trust of the people.” Zigong said: “If you had to go without one of these three, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Weapons.” Zigong asked: “If you had to go without one of the remaining two, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Food. From ancient times, death has been the fate of everyone. But without the trust of the people, the government cannot stand.”

It doesn’t matter how great the pay and office facilities are: people aren’t going to give their best if they don’t have any trust in you as a leader. There’s no reason why they should fully commit themselves to you if you don’t wholeheartedly commit yourself to them.

Only by creating a culture of mutual confidence and trust will your organization and everyone who is part of it achieve their full potential.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 7 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.

(1) This passage strikes at the very heart of Confucius’s political philosophy. Only an enlightened ruler who works in the interests of the people will gain their trust and hence ensure the longevity of his government. If he fails to do this, the government will collapse and anarchy will ensue.

(2) You can read more about the follower Zigong here.

I took this image on the top of Jiuwufeng in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.

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