Throughout the Analects, Confucius and his disciples regularly muse about the qualities required of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ), a term which has been variously translated as “gentleman”, “nobleman”, “superior man”, “man of superior order”, “man of virtue”, and “ideal man”. Confucius saw the leader as a pillar of society and the embodiment of all the moral values he espoused. There are numerous discussions of the nature of a leader in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on the nature of a leader
Confucius said: “If you rule people by laws and regulations and keep them under control through punishment, they will evade them and have no sense of shame. If you lead them by virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”
Whenever politicians are faced with a problem, their instinctive response is to pass a raft of new legislative initiatives 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 governing and the governed and increasing the intrusion of the state into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership by virtue
Confucius said: “A ruler who governs by the power of virtue is like the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”
Book 2 of the Analects opens with one of Confucius’s most famous sayings on leadership. The role of the leader is set a shining example to everyone through their virtue (德/dé), a term which can be extended to mean moral power. Continue reading The Pole Star
Confucius said: “A leader eats without stuffing his belly; chooses a home without demanding comfort; is quick to act but careful in what he says; and keeps the company of others who possess the Way so that he can be corrected by them. This is what it means to truly love learning.”
Leadership is about cultivating your inner self rather than being concerned about personal comforts. This is a theme that Confucius regularly returns to throughout the Analects, hammering home the need for moderation and adherence to traditional values. Continue reading Moderation and self-cultivation
Confucius said: “If a leader isn’t serious he will inspire no awe and lack a solid foundation for learning. Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal; and when you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.”
Confucius wasn’t afraid to remind his disciples and the rulers he met that leadership requires a serious commitment to living up to fundamental principles such as loyalty and trust and constantly examining your behavior for areas you can improve on. Continue reading A serious commitment
In the Daodejing, trusting others and being trustworthy are seen as essential qualities for a leader. Here is a collection of the most popular quotations on the subject of trust from the text.
In speaking, it is good faith that counts;
Leaders who don’t trust their people enough won’t be trusted in return.
Wise ones choose their words carefully.
Although the Daodejing has a mystical feel to it, thanks in large part to the ambiguity of some of the terms it uses and the richness of its language, the book is at heart a leadership manual that was written to warn the ruling class of the time against their excessive greed, depravity, and cruelty. Continue reading Daodejing: The best leaders
I’ve finally completed the update to my translation of the Daodejing. While I didn’t find too many egregious errors in the first version, I had to spend a lot of time polishing the language and standardizing the key terms used in the text. You can see a glossary of them here. Continue reading A journey of a thousand miles…
Laozi regarded the possession of what he defined as feminine qualities such as openness, receptiveness, and boundless creativity as vital in a leader. In the sixth chapter of the Daodejing, he calls the Way* “the subtle and profound female” and describes it as “continuous and everlasting”. Continue reading Daodejing on Leadership: Like Water