Tag Archives: Confucius on courage

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: fine words and brave deeds

fine words

Confucius said: “The virtuous have a lot to teach others; but people who have a lot to teach others aren’t necessarily virtuous. The good are always brave; but the brave aren’t necessarily good.”

Fine words and brave deeds aren’t enough to prove that someone is truly virtuous or good. It can be all too easy for people to conceal their true nature with soaring oratory and ostentatious posturing when the potential downside is minimal and the potential upside in terms of publicity is huge. After all, calling for the government to bring an end to poverty after your financial advisors have optimized your tax liability costs you far less than actually digging into your pocket to fund some projects to address the problem yourself. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: fine words and brave deeds

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the wise are never perplexed

The wise are never perplexed

Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.” (1)

Put in the time required to understand what’s really happening. Don’t take what other people have to say at face value. Question all your assumptions. Ignore all the fake narratives and bogus statistics designed to befuddle rather than enlighten you. Blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors until you reach such a state of clarity that you can make a decision without any doubts or second thoughts.

Embrace uncertainty rather than resist it. Analyze the opportunities and the threats and decide on your course of action. While others are flailing around trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it, you’re ready to swoop in and make your move.

Don’t confuse courage with recklessness. The reason you’re not afraid is because you’ve fully prepared yourself for this very moment. While others waste valuable time complaining about the vagaries of fate, you’ve already executed your plan and decided what your next step will be. Because they are in control of their thoughts and emotions and know the right time to take action, the wise are never perplexed.


This article features a translation of Chapter 29 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius makes a similar point in 14.28: “A leader adheres to three principles that I have been unable to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” In 12.4, he explains to his follower Sima Niu that a leader has no anxiety or fear because: “When he looks inside himself and finds nothing wrong, what does he have to be anxious about or fear?”

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

Leadership lessons from Confucius: courage and recklessness

courage and recklessness

Confucius said to Yan Hui: “To take office when needed and to stay out of sight when dismissed: only you and I can do this.” Zilu said: “If you had command of the Three Armies, who would you appoint to help you?” Confucius said: “I wouldn’t choose someone who wrestles tigers barehanded or swims across rivers without fearing death. But I would choose someone who approaches difficulties with due caution and achieves victories through careful planning.” (1) (2)

There’s a huge difference between courage and recklessness. Courage means having the bravery and determination to bide your time until the right moment arrives for you to strike. Recklessness means diving in without thinking about the possible consequences of your action until it’s too late. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: courage and recklessness