Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting on in the world

Zizhang asked about getting on in the world. Confucius said: “If your words are sincere and trustworthy and your actions are honorable and respectful, you will get on in the world even among the Man and Mo tribes. If your words are insincere and untrustworthy, if you act without honor and respect, how can you possibly get on in the world even in your own village? When you stand, you should always have this principle in front of you. When you drive, you should have it carved upon the yoke of your carriage; only then will you truly be able to move ahead.” Zizhang wrote this down on his sash.
子張問「行」。子曰:「言忠信,行篤敬,雖蠻貊之邦行矣;言不忠信,行不篤敬,雖州里行乎哉?立則見其參於前也,在輿則見其倚於衡也,夫然後行!」子張書諸紳。

There are no short cuts for getting on in the world. It does not matter how talented and energetic you are if people do not trust you. You may be able to fool them at first with your beguiling smile and fine words, but they will soon figure it out if your actions do not live up to your eloquence.

Notes
This article features a translation of Chapter 6 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) Success comes from cultivating your inner self rather than chasing after its external trappings such as fame and wealth. This is what Confucius is telling his ambitious young follower Zizhang in this passage. If you live up to the commitments you make and treat other people well, you are guaranteed to get on in the world (even if it may take longer than you hope).

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.