Leadership Lessons from Confucius: deeds not words

Confucius said: “If you behave in the correct manner, what difficulties will you meet when in government service? If you are unable to behave in the correct manner, how can you possibly make sure that others behave in the correct manner?”

Deeds not words. This is the maxim you need to strictly adhere to if you are truly serious about bringing meaningful change to your organization. While your colleagues may be interested in hearing what you have to say about new ethical principles and caring values that are powering your groundbreaking new initiative, they will soon lose interest if you fail to exhibit them in your own actions and behavior. Better to not embark such a program at all unless you’re prepared to walk the new walk as well as talk the new talk. That’s the only way to inspire people to embrace meaningful change.


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

(1) The sentiment of this passage is almost exactly the same as in 12.17 and 13.6, though it refers to ministers and officials in government service rather than to an actual ruler. For a state to function effectively, people at all levels of the hierarchy need to conduct themselves properly. The same principle applies, of course, to any organization. Do as I say not as I do is a recipe for cynicism and disfunction.


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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.