Leadership Lessons from Confucius: harmony but not conformity
Confucius said: “A leader strives for harmony but not conformity. A petty person strives for conformity but not harmony.”
It’s never easy to handle differences in opinion between your team members, but your responsibility as a leader is to harmonize the diverse notes of opinion into a single coherent tune that everyone can agree to play like the musicians in an orchestra. Achieving harmony is a lot more difficult in the early stages of the process than imposing conformity, but the long-term results are far more positive and lasting. While harmony provides a framework for promoting the frank and exchange of ideas, conformity kills discussion and creativity.
This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.
(1) The Analects features a number of pithy comparisons between the behavior of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) and a petty person (小人/xiǎorén). This is definitely up there among the best ones. Other examples include 4.16, 7.36, and 12.16.
(2) Confucius was very keen to remind the rulers of his time of the need to appoint virtuous ministers and officials and listen to their advice rather than “yes-men” who would just agree with everything they had to say. By the same token, he was also anxious to remind ministers of their responsibility to speak out when they disagreed with the actions of the ruler — even if this meant losing their position and perhaps even life for doing so.