Leadership Lessons from Confucius: how to do outstanding work

Richard Brown
2 min readOct 5, 2021

Zigong asked how to practice goodness. Confucius said: “Craftsmen who wish to do outstanding work must first sharpen their tools. No matter which state you happen to settle in, serve the worthiest ministers and make friends with scholar-officials who cultivate goodness.”

Raw talent and drive will only get you so far in life. Just as a craftsman needs to sharpen his tools in order to do his best work, you need to associate with the people you can learn the most from in your professional and personal life in order to cultivate your character and skills.

It is only by listening to what accomplished people have to say, observing how they conduct themselves, and building relationships with them that you will enhance your ability to operate effectively at work, home, and within the community at large. There is only so much that you can learn from books and your smart phone.

This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) This is another example of Confucius tailoring his advice to meet the individual needs of a follower. After establishing himself as a wealthy merchant, Zigong was looking to become more active in politics and government. Hence, Confucius’s advice that he should seek out the great and good at court and make friends with top officials.

Thanks in part to Confucius’s guidance, though probably more as a result of his own intellectual talent and eloquence, Zigong became a highly respected statesman who was regularly called on by rulers of states to solve tricky diplomatic disputes.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.



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.