Confucius: 9 Ways to Better Leadership


He died believing his teachings had little to no impact. How wrong he was.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius advocated leadership with self-discipline and self-control. His principles would be adopted more widely long after his death, both in China and the West.

What Confucius taught 20 centuries ago is applicable to leaders of today and tomorrow.

1. “Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

As a leader, try not to make your job more difficult and mysterious than it needs to be. Complex messages result in confusion, and that in turn, delays progress. Simplicity in what you stand for, and how you communicate, will send clear messages to propel your organization forward.

Simple is better.

2. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

It’s not about whether you fail or not, it’s about how you pick yourself back up and keep going. Everybody loves a comeback story. Expect disappointment. Make bouncing back your top priority.

You will not be judged on failure, but on your ability to recover.

3. “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.”

It’s a world full of noise. But silence has power. Use silence to extract the truth, encourage ideas, calm a conflict and open people’s heart.

Use the power of quiet.

4. “Study the past if you would define the future.”

History is important in understanding how we got here today and where we can go tomorrow. Knowing the mistakes of the past will help ensure they are not repeated. As a new manager, take time to learn the background of your company and department.

Use the past as a reference point to make relevant plans.

5. “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Confucius believed that if we have enough sense to recognize our gaps in knowledge, we’ll find ways to close those gaps. As a leader, you are not expected to know everything. But you are expected to identify, hire, utilize and promote others who know more than you.

Admitting what you don’t know, and finding those who do, is smart business.

6. “When anger rises, think of the consequences.”

Stay calm when all hell is breaking lose around you. If you lose control, your team will lose faith in your leadership. Solutions will be hard to create. More mistakes will happen. People will become afraid.

A strong leader stays calm, cool and collected.

7. “To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.”

As a leader, you will be criticized often. You may even be insulted. Managers, and leaders of all kinds, are paid in large measure upon the degree of responsibility entrusted to them. Having many eyes on you is a given. Accept this and realize there is no time to dwell upon perceived slights, pettiness or the jealousy of others.

Be an example to others and operate above office politics.

8. “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

A great leader can spot talent in anyone. There is bench strength even in your newest recruits. It is your job to find it. To use it. To celebrate it.

All of your people are “beautiful” in their own way. Exploit the beauty of everyone.

9. “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

This is perhaps the most well-known principle advocated by Confucius. It is also the one most broken today. Compassion is absent from many dismissals, eroding trust and leading to a lack of respect for organizations. Tomorrow’s leaders must find ways to deliver bad news in a way they themselves would prefer.

The most respected leaders are those with compassion.


Education for All

Confucius may have been the first person to start a leadership program. He organized a program that defined learning, not just as a way to acquire knowledge, but to build character.

The reason he believed his teachings made little impact is that he had hoped to influence the rulers of the day to incorporate his ideas into official policies. He believed strongly that education was for the masses, not just for the privileged few. But those in power rejected this idea. As he grew older, he continued to teach and it is said he acquired 3,000 dedicated followers by the time of his death at age 73.


© 2016 Cory Robert Galbraith, All Rights Reserved.

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