Leadership Lessons from Confucius: learn from your mistakes

Richard Brown
2 min readOct 29, 2021

Confucius said: “To make a mistake and not correct it is to make a mistake indeed.”
子曰:「過而不改,是謂過矣!」

We all make mistakes. The challenge is not just to correct them but also to learn from them. That means taking time to reflect on where you went wrong and being honest with yourself in evaluating the reasons why you screwed up. Even more importantly, you should look deep inside yourself and examine the character traits that drove your behavior so that you can address them on a more fundamental level. If you were too impulsive or too impatient, for example, you can start thinking about ways of controlling your emotions more effectively in future. If you did not pay close enough attention to what your colleagues or friends were saying, you can work on becoming a better listener.

When you make a mistake, it can be all too easy to issue a ritualistic mea culpa before quietly burying it and continuing along exactly the same path that you were on before. Rather than attempting to put it behind you as quickly as possible, take it as on opportunity to learn more about yourself so that you can do better in the future. While you may find this a difficult process to begin with, you will soon start to experience the benefits it brings.

Notes
This article features a translation of Chapter 30 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) See 1.8 for a similar sentiment from Confucius: “A leader who has no seriousness of purpose lacks dignity and a solid foundation for learning. Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal. When you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.”

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.