Leadership lessons from Confucius: paper qualifications

Richard Brown
2 min readApr 11, 2021

Zilu appointed Zigao as governor of Bi. Confucius said: “You’re harming another man’s son.” Zilu said: “There are people there for him to learn from as well as the altars of the spirits of the land and grain where he can learn how to perform ritual ceremonies. Why should learning consist only of reading books?” Confucius said: “It’s this kind of remark that makes me hate people with a smooth tongue.”

Do you need to have all the necessary paper qualifications first before going on to employment or can you pick up what you need to know on the job? For specialist fields such as medicine, law, and some engineering disciplines, you obviously do need to pass the required courses and examinations before being let loose on the unsuspected world. But for many other positions in more general areas such as sales and marketing, enthusiasm, intelligence, good writing skills, and a willingness to learn are at least as important as a degree from even the most prestigious college — if not more so.

Of course, having a good educational background provides a solid platform for launching a career, but it needs to be combined with the right attitude if you are to achieve long-term success.


This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) Confucius is criticizing Zilu for placing the “dumb” Zigao (see 11.18 ) in the highly sensitive position of steward or governor of the town of Bi, the home of the Ji Family. Even though Zilu argues that Zigao can learn how to conduct ritual ceremonies on the job, Confucius doesn’t believe that he is up to dealing with the pressures of the position. Indeed, he goes as far as to accuse Zilu of “harming another man’s son” by appointing Zigao to this challenging post.

I took this image of these ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessels at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of 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.