Leadership Lessons from Confucius: principled but not pedantic
Confucius said: “A leader is principled but not pedantic.”
A leader can be likened to bamboo: tough at the core but supple enough to adapt to changing circumstances without being blown over by even the most powerful storm.
That means having the integrity and strength to do what is right when dealing with complex situations, as well as the courage to make difficult decisions rather than ducking out of them by hiding behind petty rules and regulations.
Indeed, the ability to see the big picture rather than allowing yourself to get bogged down in petty details is absolutely vital for a leader. So too is the flexibility to switch course when the direction of the wind shifts or your original plan is not working.
This article features a translation of Chapter 37 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.
(1) 諒/liàng is a pejorative term. There is no ideal English translation for it. Pedantic, fastidious, petty fidelity, and rigid trustworthiness come closest to its meaning.
(2) Confucius cautions against becoming excessively pedantic or fastidious in a number of passages in the Analects, including 13.18, 13.20, and 17.8. In 14.17, he goes as far as too excuse Guan Zhong, the great chief minister of the state of Qi, for breaking the rules of ritual propriety by tartly asking Zigong: “Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”
I took this image at the Kadaji Temple in Kyoto.