Confucian Leadership Lesson | Why I Prefer Working Under A Tough Leader

A leader must be tough and demanding, yet fair… so said Confucius a long long time ago. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? I thought the same when I first came across this concept.

True leaders are demanding. They ask a lot of you. If it’s not good enough, they will tell you. If they are polite, they will tell you nicely. If you don’t get the hint, they will either yell at you… or politely show you the door.

Leadership is not about popularity. So what if people like you? ‘Likes’ are a bit overrated, don’t you think? All these thumbs up, claps and God knows what else… And what does it all amount to? Absolutely nothing. Passing time on ridiculous social media nonsense that no one cares about.

So let me tell you a story about my current boss. She is a jovial person who tells a lot of jokes. But nothing escapes her eye. Sharp like a razor; she can and will cut you if you’re not careful. If you do your work and do it well, she generally leaves you alone–but if you are not up to mark; better watch out!

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

I want a leader who demands nothing short of excellence from me. Can you get that by working on your own? I don’t think so. So many of my generation are doing freelance jobs or ‘gigs’ on the internet, but they’re getting zero exposure to what it’s like to work in a team. Your intelligence, your talent and even your abilities are not enough to succeed in this world. If you cannot work with others, your career will be dead on arrival.

To Confucius, a tough leader is someone who possesses strength that comes from an inner spirit that is firm and unyielding–and able to effectively resist any attempts to destroy or overcome it. Interestingly, toughness also implies flexibility. You have to know when to be the oak and when to be the bamboo. The hardness of boring concrete will not get you anywhere.

To be tough is to be persistently tenacious. A tough leader never gives up whenever he or she reaches an obstacle or roadblock.

Painting from the Song Dynasty.

The experience of working under a tough leader goes against our social media sensibilities where people ceaselessly complain about everything and anything under the sun. But your leader is your leader–no matter how much you whine like an idiotic drunkard who cannot hold his drink.

Leaders are entitled to make demands of their employees. So I know what you’re thinking–that you don’t want a leader who is a military dictator. But good leaders don’t do that. When you are given a request, you must understand that it is an order. A few months back, my boss asked a fellow team member of mine to do something and she didn’t follow the instructions at all. When asked why, she retorted, “I thought it was a suggestion.”

How foolish! And when we asked her why she didn’t do as she was asked, she admitted that she had decided to take the easy way out. How double foolish!

A good leader will not ask you to do simple things–but will make sure you deliver on all that they saw in you when they first hired you. If you fail to deliver, then you simply did not fulfil the potential they saw in you.

Too bad. Someone else will fill that vacuum and be given that golden opportunity.

At the end of the day, we all have to compete to survive in this world and while your leader can be your mentor in some respects; you cannot rely on them to be that all of the time. They are usually juggling many things and the more you burden them, the more they will put some distance between you and them.

A true leader shines the light and shows the way, expecting others to accompany him or her on the journey. Yet, he or she is fair when it comes to judging the performance and contributions of others–making allowances when they are justifiable but also rejecting reasons that are just lousy.

That is why I prefer a tough leader to a nice one.


4 thoughts on “Confucian Leadership Lesson | Why I Prefer Working Under A Tough Leader

  1. My whole generation has got it wrong about what leadership is. Good to read content like this. I hope more young people will open their eyes, wake up and smell the coffee.


  2. Steve Jobs always demanded excellence from his employees. People didn’t have nice things to say about him–but just look at Apple today.


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