Leadership Lessons from Confucius: cultivate yourself to be respectful


Zilu asked how to become a leader. Confucius said: “Cultivate yourself to be respectful.” Zilu asked: “Is that all there is to it?” Confucius said: “Cultivate yourself to bring peace to the people. Cultivate yourself to bring peace to the people: even Yao and Shun wouldn’t have been able to match it.”

What kind of impression do you give when you’re in a meeting? Do you sit upright in your chair and pay attention to people when they’re speaking even if you’re bored out of your mind? Or do you lounge in your seat and sneak in occasional glances at your phone to make sure you’re not missing anything important?

If you can’t be bothered to show any interest in the topics being discussed, you shouldn’t be surprised that nobody else takes them seriously either. If you’re not respectful towards others when they speak, you shouldn’t become irritated if they switch off when it’s your turn to take the stage. If you’re going to go to the trouble of calling a meeting, you need to make sure that everyone is fully engaged with the subject at hand – starting with yourself.


This article features a translation of Chapter 42 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Yao and Shun were ancient, probably mythical, sage kings from the third millennia BC who were regarded as role models for rulers. By projecting a respectful demeanor at ritual ceremonies, the sovereigns showed how seriously they took their roles, thus bringing peace to the common people. Confucius uses the same phrase about them (堯舜其猶病諸) in 6.30.

I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting a regent to the young King Cheng. You can read more about the temple here.

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