Leadership Lessons from Confucius: make demands on yourself

Confucius said: “A leader makes demands on themself; a petty person makes demands on others.”

When something goes wrong, resist the temptation to blame others for the failure. While they may have made mistakes, you need to reflect first on how you could have handled the issue more effectively and the steps you need to take in order to rectify your thinking and decision-making processes.

If you are unwilling or unable to address your own weaknesses and failings, you cannot expect others to either. It is only by setting the right example for others to follow that you can build a strong and enduring culture. While pointing your finger at others for problems may cause a temporary improvement in their performance, things will return to how they were before as soon as the storm has blown over — the only difference being that everyone will be even less willing to put their head above the parapet in the future.

This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) This is another of the numerous comparisons Confucius makes in the Analects between the leader and the petty person. See 4.16 and 14.23 for other examples:

“A leader is concerned about what is right; a petty person is concerned about what is in their own interest.”

“A leader goes high. A petty person goes low.”

(2) This passage also has a similar flavor to 15.15: “If you demand a lot from yourself but little from others, you will keep clear from resentment.”

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.