Leadership Lessons from Confucius: honesty and trust

honesty and trust

Zilu asked how to serve a ruler. Confucius said: “Don’t deceive them; be willing to oppose them.”

Honesty and trust are at the core of any meaningful relationship. The one between you and your boss is no exception. If you’re not open and candid with them, they’ll soon lose their confidence in you. The last thing they want to hear are nasty surprises because you’ve kept them in the dark about unexpected problems with a client that you’ve been unable to handle or a slowdown in sales. Better to proactively voice your concerns rather than hope the problem will magically go away. The earlier you nip it in the bud, the easier it will be to solve it.

It’s never easy to speak out when you think your boss is making a mistake, if you feel strongly that they’re moving in the wrong direction summon up the courage to raise a red flag. They may not want to hear your opposition at the time, but they’ll come to thank you for it when they find out that reasons are valid.


This article features a translation of Chapter 22 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Confucius regarded honesty and trust as the bedrock of the relation between a ruler and his ministers. So much so that his own outspokenness probably cost him the chance of ever securing a high-level government position! See 14.7 for a similar comment: “Can you be truly loyal to someone if you refrain from admonishing them?”

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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