Tag Archives: Confucius on leadership

Leadership lessons from Confucius: words or actions?

words or actions?

When Zigong asked about leadership, the Master said: “First accomplish what you want to say and then say it.”

Which comes first: words or actions? If you take your cue from Silicon Valley, the answer is to shout from the rooftops that your brilliant idea is going to transform the world as we know it so that you can suck in enough investors to kickstart your dream and keep it going until one fine day it stops bleeding cash and finally starts to make money (or gets bought by a bigger company that wants to get their hands on your technology and people or at least prevent the emergence of a potential competitor. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: words or actions?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: quiet satisfaction

Temple of Confucius: quiet satisfaction

The Master said: “Don’t be concerned about other people failing to acknowledge you; be concerned about failing to acknowledge them.”

Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. It’s not a race for fame and fortune. It’s a constant process of “carving and polishing stones” to sharpen your ability to build and develop a self-sustaining team that requires minimal intervention from you in how it operates. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: quiet satisfaction

Leadership lessons from Confucius: never give up

Leadership Lessons from Confucius

The Master said: “Isn’t it a pleasure to study and repeatedly apply the lessons you’ve learned? Isn’t it a joy to have friends visit from afar? Isn’t it the mark of a leader to go unacknowledged without letting it annoy you?”(1)

How do you become a leader? This is the central theme of the teachings of Confucius as recorded in The Analects. The answer is by studying the core principles hard and iterating the lessons you have learned from them so enthusiastically that they become an unconscious part of who you are and how you conduct yourself. There are no magical shortcuts in this process, though that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be an enjoyable one. There are no guaranteed earthly or heavenly rewards for following it either. You pursue this path because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a pot of gold at the end of it or any likes or retweets along the way. (2)

Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: never give up

Confucius on leadership presentation

As a follow-up to my recent post on the same subject, I’ve posted a presentation on slideshare summarizing some of the most important characteristics that Confucius believed a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) should possess using quotes from Book 1 of the Analects.

I’d love to hear any feedback you may have on it.  More presentations on the main themes of  Confucius’s teachings are in the pipeline.


Leadership in the Analects


If I were ever asked to choose one single word that sums up the main theme of the Analects, I would unhesitatingly opt for “leadership”. Through his teachings, Confucius was attempting to educate the ruling elite of his time how to create and govern a just and fair society that would ensure peace, prosperity, and harmony for all. Continue reading Leadership in the Analects

Virtuous leadership

Confucius said: “If a leader behaves in the correct manner everything will operate smoothly even if he doesn’t issue orders. If a leader doesn’t behave in the correct manner, nobody will listen even if he does issue orders.”

Although the principle of effortless action (無為/wúwéi) is more commonly associated with the teachings of Laozi in the Daodejing, Confucius applied the same way of thinking to his concept of virtuous leadership. Continue reading Virtuous leadership

Rectification of the names

Zilu asked: “If the Duke of Wei were to entrust you with the government of his state, what would be your first priority? Confucius said: “It most definitely would be to rectify the names.” Zilu said: “Really? Isn’t that a little strange? How would that make things right?” Confucius said: “How dense can you get! If a leader doesn’t understand what he is talking about, he should remain silent. If the names are not correct, language does not accord with the truth of things. When language does not accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully. When nothing can be carried out successfully, the rites and music will not flourish. When the rites and music don’t flourish, punishments and penalties miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, the people do not know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, a leader must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever he wants to talk about, and must also make sure he does exactly as he says. When it comes to speaking, a leader doesn’t allow any carelessness.”

Just as history is written by the winners so is the language controlled by them. Confucius shows he clearly understands this point when he tells Zilu that if he were to assume a position of power, his top priority would be to “rectify the names” for “if the names are not correct, language does not accord with the truth of things.”

Confucius’s version of “the truth” harked back to China’s mythical golden age under the Duke of Zhou (周公) over a thousand years before he was born. By restoring what he saw as the original meanings of the words embodying the values of his hero, Confucius hoped to bring back higher ethical and moral standards and reestablish social order.

Unable to secure a high-level position in government during his lifetime, Confucius died without achieving his dream – though of course it could be argued that the subsequent publication and popularization of the Analects meant that he ended up having a far far greater influence on the enduring debate about social values than he could have ever possibly achieved as a senior official of the state of Wei.

Selecting and nurturing talent

When Ran Yong was serving as a steward of the Ji Family, he asked about governance. Confucius said: “First appoint your senior officials. Forgive small mistakes. Promote people of talent.” Ran Yong asked: “How do I recognize that someone has talent and deserves to be promoted?” Confucius said: “Promote those you know. Those you don’t know will not be passed over.”

In the same way that he felt a leader should not be a mere “vessel” or technician, Confucius also thought that the leader’s role was not to micromanage the work of his subordinates but to make sure that they discharged their duties in the correct manner. Continue reading Selecting and nurturing talent