The Master said: “If you lead through laws and regulations and maintain order through punishments, people will avoid them but won’t develop a sense of shame. If you lead through virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”
Whenever government or business leaders are faced with an ethical crisis, their instinctive response is to pass a raft of new legislation, regulations, rules, and codes of conduct to “solve” it. While in the short term this approach may give the illusion that they are “doing something” (not to mention generating some handy headlines), in the long term it has the highly corrosive effect of widening the gap between the elite and the people and increasing the level of interference into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences
Do not single out the gifted for praise,
To ensure that the people never contend;
Do not prize rare goods,
To ensure that the people never steal;
Do not display objects of desire,
To ensure that the people’s hearts will never be restless.
That’s why the sage rules his people by:
Emptying their minds;
But filling their stomachs;
Weakening their ambitions;
But strengthening their sinews.
Always keeping the people free from knowledge and desires,
To ensure that those with knowledge will never dare act.
By acting with effortless action,
There is nothing that he cannot govern.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 3: leadership through effortless action
Virtue (德/dé) and goodness (仁/rén) are both at the summit of Confucius’s moral hierarchy. The main difference between the two is that while goodness is the highest value that a normal person can aspire to, virtue is the highest state that a ruler can aim for. Continue reading Analects Book 1: on virtue