Analects of Confucius Book 4: Confucius on leadership qualities

The ability to assess a given situation objectively and take the most appropriate action based on the facts of it is one of the key leadership qualities that Confucius highlights in Book 4 of the Analects.

In 4.10, he underlines the importance of having a strong moral compass to guide your decisions and actions: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: they go with what is right.” In 4.16, he further emphasizes the point when he says, “A leader is concerned about what is right; a petty person is concerned about what is in their own interest.”

In stark contrast to a petty person, a leader pursues “virtue” and “justice” (4.11). They do not prize material possessions or attempt to find loopholes in the legal system that enable them to gain exemptions from it.

A leader, therefore, “never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal.” Even in the most difficult situations, they stay true to their path and never deviate from it (4.5).

Confucius also offers practical advice on how to develop your leadership capabilities in Book 4. In 4.14, he urges: “Don’t be concerned that you haven’t secured an official position; be concerned that you have what it takes to secure one. Don’t be concerned that you aren’t recognized for your abilities; be concerned that you deserve to be recognized for your abilities.”

In 4.17, he adds: “When you meet people of exceptional character, think how you can become their equal. When you meet people of poor character, look inside and examine yourself.” In other words, it is your responsibility to reflect on your character and identify the areas you need to improve upon. While others can help point the way for you by positive or negative example, only you can commit yourself to follow it.

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.