Leadership Lessons from Confucius: devotion to duty

Confucius said: “In serving your ruler, your devotion to duty should come before any consideration of your salary.”

Think very carefully before you exhort your staff to give 110% or go the extra mile. No doubt they will be willing to answer your call if something urgent crops up, but the greater the demands you make on them, the greater the often-unspoken pushback you will receive from them. Even if you compensate them for their extra work, they will soon resent the extra burdens you place on their time. They do after all need to achieve balance in their life.


This article features a translation of Chapter 38 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) The message in this passage is similar to that of 15.32: namely, that a leader should be dedicated to carrying out their duties without thinking about the potential rewards they may receive.

(2) Confucius is also probably making a none-too-subtle swipe at the corrupt aristocrats and officials who enriched themselves while “serving” in the governments of the many states that existed during the Spring and Autumn period. Unfortunately for him, his own brand of “devotion to duty” served as more of a hindrance than a help to the advancement of his career.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.


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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.