Leadership Lessons from Confucius: avoid premature judgment

Confucius said: “When it comes to other people, I don’t usually praise or condemn them. If I praise anyone, it is only after they have been put to the test. It is because all the people acted in this way that the Three Dynasties kept to the straight path.”

First impressions can be misleading. Take time to get to know a new member of your team before coming to any conclusions about their character and abilities. Getting used to a new environment can be very challenging for some people. You never know how they are going to gel with their colleagues. Focus on helping them to settle in and prove themselves rather than rushing to premature judgment about their suitability.

This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) Given that the Analects is full of his pithy judgments on the conduct and morals of myriad historical and contemporary figures, Confucius is perhaps stretching it when he claims that he doesn’t usually praise or condemn other people. Presumably his point is that he only does this after due consideration.

(2) The meaning of the second sentence is ambiguous. Some commentators argue that it should be split into a separate passage. Since Confucius believed that the behavior of the common people reflected that of their rulers, he is probably indirectly praising the enlightened leadership of the legendary sage kings of the first “Three Dynasties” in China’s history, the Xia, Shang, and Zhou for setting the right example to their subjects. By extension, therefore, he is indirectly condemning the ruling class of his age for its failure to set the right standards of behavior for their people to follow.

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.