Confucius On Management


It’s easy to get caught up with the latest management fads, but hard to know which ones will endure. Indeed, Nassim Taleb writes about how time is the ultimate test for the fragility of ideas. So with China in the news, what better ideas to look at than Confucius’, who lived over 2,500 years ago. His sayings are in the “Analects”, which are said to have been recorded by his disciples. What I’ve found is that Confucius was very good at understanding how to get the best out of hierarchical structures, which today would equate just as easily to corporations as governments. So I’ve picked out the best bits for business and modified the language to sound more contemporary:

Basics of working

  • An overarching principle to work by is “do not impose on others what you yourself do not want”
  • Someone who constantly learns will not be inflexible
  • Avoid over-promising and under-delivering

Money and status

  • Money and status are what everyone wants, but unless you get them in the right way don’t hold on to them
  • It is easier to be arrogant when rich, then to complain of injustice when poor
  • The good leader is at ease without being arrogant; the bad leader is arrogant without being at ease
  • Don’t worry if you don’t get the job title you want – worry about your qualifications and ability to do the job. Don’t worry that no one appreciates your abilities – try to earn their appreciation
  • Don’t blame others for not seeing your talent, blame yourself for not seeing their talents

Managing others

  • Surround yourself with people that are better than you
  • The leader enters into transparent partnerships, not factions/cliques
  • To get staff to look up to you, promote the honest staff over the political ones
  • People who are pleased with whatever the manager says is of no help to the manager
  • A good manager helps others realise what is good in them, the bad manager helps them realise what is bad in them


  • Leadership is to know when you know, and say you don’t when you don’t
  • Five things will make a leader great: respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness in words, delivering results quickly, and generosity
  • Do not be impatient as you will not reach your goals. Do not be short-termist as you’ll not accomplish the big goals
  • If leaders themselves didn’t act unethically, no-one would act unethically even if it carried a reward
  • If a leader acts correctly, others will follow them even without orders, but if they are not correct in their actions, others will not follow even if orders are given

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