Leadership Lessons from Confucius: exercising restraint

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 26, 2019

Confucius said: “You rarely go wrong when you exercise restraint.”

Don’t get caught up in the heat of the moment. Take a deep breath or simply walk away before you say or do something that you’ll come to regret. You make your best decisions when you’re calm and have time to weigh up all the available options — not when you’re consumed with emotion and in a rush. As a leader, your responsibility is to achieve the best solution rather than “win” the argument.

Exercising restraint may not win you an Instagram lifestyle (though the extreme version of it hasn’t exactly hindered Marie Kondo from achieving one), but it will certainly help you improve your physical and emotional health — not to mention boost your wealth.

Just because you can consume as much as you want at an “all-you-can-eat” buffet, it doesn’t mean that you have to gorge yourself. Just because social media influencers are telling you that you need to buy the latest beach-ready fashions in order to be ready for the summer, it doesn’t mean that you need to find a space for them in your jam-packed wardrobe. And just because everyone you know is heading off to some exotic location for their vacation, it doesn’t mean that you need to find out how far you can stretch the limit of your credit card.

Exercising restraint doesn’t require you to live like a monk or nun. It’s more about having the self-confidence and self-control to make more judicious choices about how you manage your health, wealth, and relationships with others. When it comes to leading a balanced and rewarding life, it’s a useful principle to adhere to.


This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.



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.