Leadership in Confucianism & Daoism

Paper, ink, gunpowder and so on goes the list of gifts of Chinese civilization to the world. Chinese civilization was the guiding spirit of a very large section of humanity, giving it its writing, its technology, its conceptions of man and of the world, its religions and its political institutions (Gernet, 1996).

Traditionalism of Confucius and the nihilism of Chuang-Tzu (Waley, 1918) have played a great part in shaping the Chinese culture. “There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State; and others who are not born to be philosophers and are meant to be followers rather than leaders “(Plato, Republic Book V). Western Culture reserved philosophy for the ideal ruler while the Confucian and The way were for everyone both the leaders and the followers. This unity in thought and guiding principles builds a consensus and harmony which are very conducive to team work and the synergy effect of people working together for common goals.

Long term stability of Chinese civilization has been achieved with the Centeredness concept of Daoism and the virtues of Confucianism. “Confucianism emphasizes ren (benevolence or humaneness) as the primary principle governing leadership. The practice of the(se) virtues and the governance and leadership developed from them aim at achieving harmonious relations and organizational stability” (Gupta & Van Wart, 2015).

The yin-yang concept present in Confucianism and Daoism also can be seen in the creation of Daoism itself. “The word Tao in the Analects means one thing only, the Way of the ancients as it could be reconstructed from the stories told about the founders of the Chou dynasty and the demi-gods who had preceded them “(Waley, 1992). Confucius inculcated the duty of public service. Those to whom this duty was repulsive found support in Taoism, a system which denied this obligation (Waley, 1918).

“It occurred to the intellectuals of China that they would be happier growing vegetables in their gardens than place-hunting at Nanking. They embraced the theory that “by bringing himself into harmony with Nature” man can escape every evil.

They reduced to the simplest standard their houses, apparel, and food; and discarded the load of book-learning which Confucianism imposed on its adherents.” – Arthur Waley, A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems.

Daoism provides a way out for those who do not believe in Confucianism. This is a good transition from the world of rulers to the rulers of the self. A self that is in harmony with the nature. A self that brings out the best of the human nature.

When people are meted out treatment like they expect, then the state of harmony of Daoism continues. “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no feelings of opposition to you, whether it is the affairs of a State that you are handling or the affairs of a Family” (Waley, 1992).

Western civilization prefers questioning to achieve agreement, while the Eastern begins with agreement. “To most Europeans the momentary flash of Athenian questioning will seem worth more than all the centuries of Chinese assent” (Waley, 1918). Confucianism has the heavy air of learning and self-reflection while the Daoism shows the way of living harmoniously. By having a path for everyone either as a being philosopher or a doing philosopher, philosophy is implemented irrespective of the ruler. With a common philosophy for all, Chinese civilization made all its citizens, self-leaders. The Daoism concept of Empowering the followers is now seen as a great way to engage the employees in the company. Empowering leadership is relatively new, and stresses delegation of responsibility to subordinates (Mills 2005).

See-saw and Turnstile door. Western civilization has a see-saw approach to leadership where one goes up as a prominent leader and brings others down in state of stability, while the yin-yang concept of Chinese civilization acts a turnstile door, where The Two Goats of Aesop’s Fable will have to keep their egos in check, yield and let the other use the door and thereby get to his destination safely.


Waley Arthur, 1992, The Analects of Confucius

Waley Arthur, 1918, A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42290/42290-h/42290-h.htm

Gupta Vipin, Van Wart Montgomery, 2015, Leadership across the globe

Gernet Jacques, 1992, A History of Chinese Civilization.

Aesop’s Fable, The Two Goats, http://www.first-school.ws/theme/fables/two-goats.htm

Mills Quinn, 2005, Asian and American Leadership Styles: How Are They Unique?



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