A good leader accomplishes his mission without fanfare

Zhang Ciyun
It’s easy to find thousands of soldiers, but hard to find a skilled general.
Zhang Ciyun
A good leader accomplishes his mission without fanfare
Li Chaoquan

In many different languages around the world, there are idioms, sayings and quotations that extol the importance of leadership and the qualities of a good leader.

For instance, there’s an African proverb that says an army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.

Polybius, an ancient Greek historian, once observed that a good general is one who not only sees the way to victory but also recognizes when victory is impossible.

In the United States, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates once defined a key trait of leadership for the 21st century: “Leaders will be those who empower others.”

Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, compared leadership to shepherding in his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.”

“A leader ... is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind,” said Mandela.

More than 2,500 years ago, Lao Tzu, a top philosopher in ancient China and the founder of Taoism, also made comments on leadership.

“A leader is at his best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done and his mission fulfilled, the people will say ‘we did it ourselves,’” he said.

Today, Chinese people use two popular idioms to echo these points.

One expression is bingxiong xiongyige, jiangxiong xiongyiwo, or “an incompetent soldier is but an incompetent individual, an incompetent general turns a whole army into an incompetent force.”


bīng xióng xióng yí gè, jiàng xióng xióng yī wō

The other saying, qianjun yide, yijiang nanqiu, means that it’s easy to find thousands of troops, but hard to find a good general.

千军易得, 一将难求

qiān jūn yì dé, yī jiàng nán qiú

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