Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a balanced approach

Confucius said: “If you can’t find people who take a balanced approach to associate with, you’ll have to settle for the wild or the fastidious. The wild dare to do anything to achieve their goals, while the fastidious won’t get their hands dirty.”

How balanced is your team, not just in terms of skills and knowledge but also abilities and personalities? While you certainly need a number of go-getting risk-takers to push the team forward in developing new products and opening up new markets, you also need more fastidious types to make sure that no sloppiness occurs as you ramp up your R&D, production, and sales efforts. At the same time of course, you need people who take a balanced approach to bring the two extremes together.


This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) With the “wild” (狂/kuáng), Confucius is referring to people who haven’t yet had their native substance shaped by cultural refinement. With the fastidious (狷/juàn), he’s referring to people who have cultural refinement but lack the passion, flexibility, and courage required to take on a leadership role. In 6.8, he sums up the dangers of both extremes with this comparison: “When native substance wins out over cultural refinement, you get the coarseness of a peasant; when cultural refinement wins out over native substance, you get the pedantry of a clerk”


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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.