Tag Archives: Virtue

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: proper reverence

proper reverence

Zengzi said: “When the dead are shown proper reverence and the memory of distant ancestors is kept alive, the people’s virtue is at its highest.” (1) (2)

It can be very easy to take the culture of your organization for granted. But showing respect for its history and the people who established and built it is vital for forming a common bond among everyone who joins it.

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Daodejing Chapter 21: the greatest virtue

Daodejing Chapter 21「孔德之容,唯道是從。道之為物,唯恍唯惚,惚兮恍兮,其中有象;恍兮惚兮,其中有物。窈兮冥兮,其中有精,其精甚真,其中有信。自古及今,其名不去,以閱眾甫。吾何以知眾甫之狀哉?以此!」
The greatest virtue is achieved by following the Dao and the Dao alone.
As a thing, the Dao is,
Elusive and intangible;
Intangible and elusive!
Yet within it is an image;
Elusive and intangible!
Yet within it is a substance;
Dim and dark!
Yet within it is an essence;
The essence is real;
And within it is something that can be trusted;
From ancient times until now,
Its name has never disappeared.
Through it, I can see the beginning of all things.
How do I know how all things began?
Because it is here within me.
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Analects Book 4: virtue never stands alone


Confucius made regular use of the device of comparing the lofty values of a leader with the base instincts of a small-minded man. In Chapter XI of Book 4, for example, he comments that while the former “cherishes virtue” the latter only cares about the accumulation of material possessions. A leader thus focuses on improving himself in order to better contribute to the common good of society, while a small-minded man is only concerned on extracting as many benefits as possible from it. Continue reading Analects Book 4: virtue never stands alone

The pursuit of major virtues

Zixia said: “As long as you don’t overstep the bounds when it comes to major virtues, it doesn’t matter if you take the occasional liberty with minor ones.”

Just as Zixia urged his students to focus on reaching their most important goals rather than wasting their time on minor diversions in Chapter IV of Book 19, he was willing to overlook minor missteps from them if they showed they were fully committed to the pursuit of the major virtues. Continue reading The pursuit of major virtues

Live life to the full

Zizhang said: “If a man fails to embrace virtue with all his spirit and fails to follow the Way with all his heart, does it really matter whether he exists or not?”

The only way for people to make an impact on the world is to live life to the full. You can’t be half-pregnant: if you’re not going to fully commit yourself to something, you won’t achieve any meaningful results.

Checks and balances

Zilu said: “Does a leader prize courage?” Confucius said: “A leader prizes rightness above all else. A leader who is courageous but lacking in rightness could create chaos; a petty person who is courageous but lacking in rightness could become a bandit.”

Your greatest strength often turns out to be your greatest weakness. Internal checks and balances are required. Continue reading Checks and balances