Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to work for?

easy to work for

Confucius said: “A leader is easy to work for but hard to please. If you try to please them without following the proper way they won’t be happy, but they’ll only give you tasks you have the ability to carry out. A petty person is hard to work for, but easy to please. If you try to please them, even without following the proper way, they’ll be happy, but they’ll demand that you have the ability to do anything.”
子曰:「君子易事而難說也,說之不以道,不說也,及其使人也,器之。小人難事而易說也,說之雖不以道,說也,及其使人也,求備焉。」

Be honest with yourself. Are you easy to work for? Do you set clear expectations for your staff and pay close attention to their progress or do you throw them in the deep end to see if they sink or swim? Do you respond more positively to staff who suck up to you or those who are willing to challenge you when they think you’re going in the wrong direction? Perhaps amid the endless pile of issues you find yourself having to deal with during your day, you don’t even notice inconsistencies in the way you treat your staff or react to news and events. Better take a step back and reflect on how you actually lead your team before your best people decide it’s time to jump ship.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

This image is of Scholar Huang’s Residence in the Taiwan National Center of Traditional Arts in Yilan County. Originally located in Yilan City, the compound was dismantled in 1996 and rebuilt in the center in 2001. You can read more about it here.

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