Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a greatly under-appreciated virtue

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 26, 2019

Ziyou said: “In the service of a lord, overzealousness brings disgrace; in the company of friends, it brings estrangement.”

You don’t have all the answers. Even if you did, your boss or your friends would soon get tired of hearing you spout your wit and wisdom at every opportunity.

There’s no need to try too hard to impress other people. You will only end up irritating them so much that they stop listening to you or perhaps even cut you out of their lives.

Learn to button your lips and intervene only when it’s important. Respect other people’s space and let them get on with their thing. They’ll come to you when they really need your advice and support. Restraint is a greatly under-appreciated virtue.


This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

(1) This is the final chapter of Book 4. It appears to have been added to the text at a later date given that all the previous chapters feature quotations from Confucius. Possibly this was done as part of an effort by supporters of Ziyou seeking to buff up his image after it was savaged by the great philosopher Xunzi (荀子) [312–230 BCE]. You can another example of this in 17.4. Despite such attempts, however, Ziyou’s reputation never recovered from Xunzi’s attacks on it.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.



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.