Leadership Lessons from Confucius: overstepping the bounds

power of positioning

Confucius said: “Don’t concern yourself with the affairs of an office that you don’t hold.” Zengzi said: “A leader would never consider overstepping the bounds of their position.”

Your time is precious. Make the most of it. Focus on what you can control and impact. Don’t waste your energy worrying about issues that you have no influence over. You’ll just end up wearing yourself out – not to mention annoying your colleagues by sticking your nose into their business. Let them get on with what they need to do and concentrate on the work you need to complete. Everyone will be a lot happier and more productive for it.


This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) The quote from Confucius is identical to the one he makes in 8.14. The quote from Zengzi about a leader never overstepping the bounds of their position is very similar to a saying in the Image commentary of Hexagram 52 of the Book of Changes on keeping still.

(2) For all his earnestness, Zengzi wasn’t the most original of thinkers – preferring to echo the wisdom of Confucius rather than develop his own ideas. There’s a suspicion that his comment here may have been hacked on by his supporters at a later date to bolster their master’s reputation by showing his closeness with the sage.

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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