Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not perfect

not perfect

Confucius said: “A leader adheres to three principles that I haven’t been able to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” Zigong said: “Master, you’ve just described yourself.”

There’s no harm in admitting to others that you’re not perfect. Like everyone else you have your strengths and weaknesses. Better to show people that you acknowledge the aspects of your character that need to improve rather than try to hide or deny them. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for it.

It’s even more important, though, to get down to the hard work of actually addressing your weaknesses. Knowing what you need to work on is just the first step of the process. Next you need to figure out how you’re going to go about it, and then build up the courage to take the plunge. Once you’ve got over the initial shock from the icy waters, chances are that you’ll feel so inspired and energized that you’ll wonder why you’ve never done this before.


This article features a translation of Chapter 28 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) This is a variation of 9.29: “The wise are never perplexed; the virtuous are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.” The key difference is the modesty that Confucius shows in admitting his own failure to live up to the values he espouses. By extension, he is probably reminding his followers that they’re not perfect either and need to guard against complacency as well.

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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