Leadership Lessons from Confucius: good intentions

good intentions

Confucius said: “A leader is ashamed if their actions don’t match their words.”

How many times have you told your family and friends that you’re finally going to get in shape or write the book you’ve been talking about for years? Of course, you’re totally serious when you announce your plan, but somehow life seems to get in the way before you actually get into gear. Before you know it, you’re back to square one, quietly hoping that nobody will remember your good intentions.

More important, you find yourself wishing that you too could forget the commitment you made because it’s still festering away like a rash in the deepest and darkest recesses of your conscience. No matter how hard you try to get rid of it, it refuses to go away until you give it the right treatment.

You could of course attempt to salve the rash by telling yourself that you’re far too busy to deal with it right now. But deep down you know that your little white lies will only serve to make it worse. Wouldn’t it be better just to get on with the project, you finally realize as you lay tossing and turning in bed for the fifth night in a row. Accomplishing it will be tough, but nowhere near as hard as enduring the unnecessary torment you’re putting yourself through right now.


This article features a translation of Chapter 27 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) This isn’t exactly the first time that Confucius warns against the danger of good intentions in the Analects. 14.20 features another excellent example: “People who make rash promises will find them hard to keep.”

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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