Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when to walk away

Confucius said: “The worthy withdraw from the world because it’s fallen into chaos; next come those who withdraw from their state because it’s fallen into disorder; next come those who withdraw because of their ruler’s evil looks; and next come those who withdraw because of their ruler’s threatening words.” Confucius said: “The number of people who did this was seven.”
子曰:「賢者辟世,其次辟地,其次辟色,其次辟言。」子曰:「作者七人矣!」

Sometimes it is OK to walk away when things are not moving in the right direction. Just be sure not to confuse a minor disagreement with a fundamental difference of opinion or a demanding boss with a psychopath. Take some time to clarify whether you are leaving for the right reasons rather than in a fit of frustration. Every organization poses unique challenges that you need to learn to deal with. Put everything in the right perspective before you decide to walk away from it.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 37 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) This is an ambiguous passage. The most likely interpretation is that Confucius is warning officials and ministers that they should only resign from their duties in the most extreme circumstances.

(2) Nobody has any idea of the identities of the seven people Confucius refers to, though that hasn’t stopped generations of scholars speculating about them.

I took this image at the Tomb of Confucius’ Parents in Qufu.

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

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Richard Brown

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.

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