Leadership Lessons from Confucius: overstepping the bounds

Confucius said: “Don’t concern yourself with the affairs of an office that you don’t hold.” Zengzi said: “A leader would never consider overstepping the bounds of their position.”

Your time is precious. Make the most of it. Focus on what you can control and impact. Do not waste your energy worrying about issues that you have no influence over. You will just end up wearing yourself out — not to mention annoying your colleagues by sticking your nose into their business. Let them get on with what they need to do and concentrate on the work you need to complete. Everyone will be a lot happier and more productive for it.

This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) The quote from Confucius is identical to the one he makes in 8.14. The quote from Zengzi about a leader never overstepping the bounds of their position is very similar to a saying in the Image commentary of Hexagram 52 of the Book of Changes on keeping still.

(2) For all his earnestness, Zengzi was not the most original of thinkers — preferring to echo the wisdom of Confucius rather than develop his own ideas. There is a suspicion that his comment here may have been hacked on by his supporters at a later date to bolster their master’s reputation by showing his closeness with the sage.

I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting as regent to his nephew, the young King Cheng.

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