Leadership Lessons from Confucius: demanding tasks

Confucius said: “Can you truly care for someone if you’re not demanding towards them? Can you be truly loyal to someone if you refrain from admonishing them?”

Life can be tough at times. You are not doing anyone any favors by shielding them from this reality. Give them demanding tasks to work on so that they have the opportunity to develop their skills and grow. Don’t be afraid of criticizing them when it is necessary. Just make sure that your comments are constructive.

You are not doing yourself any favors either if you close down discussion of the direction you are leading your team in. The more open you are to receiving feedback from everyone, the better the overall strategy and execution will be.

This article features a translation of Chapter 7 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) This passage addresses the mutual responsibilities of a ruler and their ministers and officials. The ruler has the duty to make sure that their subordinates work hard to ensure the peace and prosperity of the state. Ministers and officials have the obligation to speak out when they feel that the ruler is going in the wrong direction. See also 13.25: “A leader is easy to work for but hard to please. If you try to please them without following the proper way they won’t be happy, but they’ll only give you tasks you have the ability to carry out.”

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in around 483 BCE, as well as compiling or editing the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Ritual, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.