Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfit to be a shaman

Confucius said: “Southerners have a saying: ‘A person who lacks constancy is unfit to be a shaman.’ This is so true! The Book of Changes says, ‘if you’re not constant in virtue, you’ll suffer disgrace.’” Confucius added: “Not even a divination will be of any use for a person like that.”

As the pace of market disruption continues to accelerate thanks to continued advances in AI, it’s going to be more and more challenging to predict the future of your organization. That makes it all the more important to have a clear long-term vision and set of core values to provide a compass for steering the right course as it is being buffeted by the driving rain and roaring waves. Without a consistent decision-making framework and process, not even a divination will be enough to help you to foresee the rocks and reefs you will need to avoid amid the storms that loom ahead.


This article features a translation of Chapter 22 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) This is a rather cryptic passage that is open to multiple interpretations. It also features one of the very few references to the Book of Changes that can be found in the Analects in the form of a quote from Hexagram 32 (constancy or steadfastness).

(2) The point of Confucius’s final comment is that a divination will only be of help to you if you’re genuinely committed to following the path of virtue. If you’re not committed to this path, then you don’t need a divination to tell you what your fate will be.

(3) In Confucius’s time, the southern states of Chu, Wu, and Yue were still not fully full sinicized and perceived by many in the north as the equivalent of the wild west. Shamanism is said to have been particularly popular in Chu, which was centered around the modern-day provinces of Henan and Hunan.

This image is of Meihua Lake in Yilan County.

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.