Leadership Lessons from Confucius: three kinds of friends

Richard Brown
2 min readMay 7, 2022

Confucius said: “There are three kinds of friends who lift you up and three kinds of friends who drag you down. Friends who are upright, sincere, and learned lift you up. Friends who are devious, insincere, and superficial drag you down.”

Choose your friends wisely. The ones who care about what they can do for you bring out the best in you. The ones who care about what you can do for them bring out the worst.

Of course, it is not always easy to discern what people’s motives are when you first meet them. That is why it pays to be cautious to begin with before announcing your latest and greatest BFF to the world. The charmer who complimented you on your awesome sense of style and great sense of humor at a networking event may just be using you to secure an introduction to an influential investor you know so that they can make a pitch to them.


This article features a translation of Chapter 4 of Book 16 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 16 here.

(1) Confucius regularly cautions about the importance of making the right kind of friends who exert a positive influence on you in the Analects. Other examples include 1.8, 9.25, 12.24, and 15.10. He constantly warns against allowing yourself to be deceived by smooth talkers who can lead you down the wrong path with their empty promises and honeyed words.

I took this image in the ancient cedar forests on Alishan in central Taiwan. Some of the trees there are over a thousand years old.



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.