Leadership Lessons from Confucius: pursuing the way
Confucius said: “A leader is devoted to seeking the way — not just a living. If you plow the fields, there is a chance you may still go hungry. If you apply yourself to learning, there is a chance you may earn a salary. A leader is concerned about pursuing the way; they are not concerned about poverty.”
There’s a risk to whatever course you choose to adopt in your life. Even if you take what seems like a “safer” option that you think will always put food on the table, chances are that things won’t go as smoothly as you hope they will. All it can take is the arrival of a new boss or a corporate takeover or merger for your plans to go awry.
Why not pursue that path you truly want to? Although there’s always a chance that you will fail, surely it’s better to have tried rather than spending your life wondering what might have been if you’d had the courage to follow your dreams.
This article features a translation of Chapter 32 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.
(1) Confucius argued that a leader should put aside all desire for wealth, fame, and other external trappings in order to devote their life to pursuing the way. See 1.14 for similar sentiments: “A leader eats without filling their stomach; chooses a home without demanding comfort; is diligent in their work and cautious in their speech; and keeps the company of others who possess the way to make sure that they stay on the right path. This is what it means to truly love learning.”
I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.