Leadership Lessons from Confucius: tuning your pitch

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 17, 2019

Confucius said: “A leader is concerned about what is right; a petty person is concerned about what is in their own interest.”

When you’re preparing a proposal, take some time to understand the needs and motivations of the person you’re going to pitch it to.

If the prospect is interested in whether it’s the right thing to do, put the emphasis on how your idea will contribute towards the common good, for example, by helping to boost the organization’s productivity, to increase people’s efficiency, or to improve the environment.

If the prospect is mainly interested in how the proposal will benefit him personally, on the other hand, tune the pitch accordingly by emphasizing how it will make him happier, healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

The key to good communication is to know which buttons to press in other people. While all of us may like to think that we only act out of the highest and most selfless of motives, the truth is that we do also take into account our own interests even if unconsciously. That’s the reason why many of the rich and famous like to attend high-profile charity galas rather than make anonymous donations.

The key is to figure out how to leverage these conflicting motives in order to achieve a positive outcome that will benefit everyone.


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

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.



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.