Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a four-step ethical leadership process

Confucius said: “A leader takes rightness as their essence, puts it into practice through ritual, manifests it through humility, and brings it to fruition through trustworthiness. This is how a leader behaves.”

Before coming to a decision, take some time to reflect on your motives. If you are basing it on an emotion such as anger, frustration, or desire to get one over the competition, there is a very good chance that ultimately you will regret it.

Best to make sure that whatever decision you take is grounded in your personal and organizational values so that everyone can understand and accept it without any unnecessary conflict. With everyone on board from the get-go, the implementation process will move ahead smoothly. All you will need to do is stay in the background quietly encouraging people and praising them for doing such a great job.

This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) This is the first in a series of nine passages in which Confucius describes the main attributes that a leader should possess. Making a few allowances for the archaic language, the four-step process he outlines in this chapter certainly wouldn’t look out of place in any contemporary discussion of ethical leadership. Using more modern management speak, it could be rendered something like this: Establish your core values; inject your core values into all your practices and processes; don’t let success get to your head; build customer trust by delivering on your commitments.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.

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