Leadership Lessons from Confucius: confident but never arrogant

Confucius said: “A leader is confident but never arrogant. A petty person is arrogant but never confident.”

Even though it can often be very difficult to distinguish between confidence and arrogance, the difference between them is huge. Confidence is based on a solid foundation of hard work and strong core values that keep you grounded in reality. Arrogance is based on a sea of shifting sands of boundless hope and deep despair.

Because they have a clear idea of the direction they are heading in, confident people treat others with grace and humility. Their cheerfulness and optimism inspire everyone else around them to join them in their mission. Because they are riddled with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, arrogant people treat others rudely and even contemptuously, instantly sucking all the energy and enthusiasm out of the room and infecting everyone with their hidden doubts and fears.

It can, unfortunately, be all too easy to allow confidence tip over into arrogance should you achieve a measure of success. It is at times when others start thinking you are the greatest thing since sliced bread that you need to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and refuse to allow all the praise go to you head.


This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) This is another of Confucius’s pointed comparisons between the conduct of a leader and a petty person.



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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.