Leadership Lessons from Confucius: demand a lot from yourself

Confucius said: “If you demand a lot from yourself but little from others, you will keep clear from resentment.”

There is nothing wrong with giving people assignments that stretch them; just be careful to make sure that you do not push them too far. Despite what the sportswear brands may want us to believe, nobody likes to be confronted with a truly impossible task. Everyone needs to be given projects that they have the ability, time, and resources to complete. What is the point of grinding away at your desk if there is no chance of achieving a positive outcome at the end of it?

People also need to work for someone who is even more demanding on themselves than on anyone else in the team. If you just give everyone else jobs because you cannot be bothered to do them yourself, it will not be long before they rumble what you are up to and start to resent the way you are treating them.

Better to set the right example to everyone by adhering to the highest personal and professional standards and showing your willingness to roll up your sleeves and work harder than anyone else. When others see that you demand a lot more from yourself than others, they will be more than happy to go the extra mile for you.

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

(1) This passage provides another example of Confucius’s insistence that you should focus on cultivating yourself above everything else. See 14.30 for another example.

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.