The importance of being earnest

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:40AM

W. Edwards Deming (1900 - 1993) Photo courtesy of WikipediaManagement guru W. Edwards Deming affirms that there are many things important to management that must be managed but cannot be measured.

Confucius placed inculcating values above that of learning to read and write. A departure from this creed has resulted in appointments of dishonest leaders based solely on their education or experience. We begin by examining the importance of values starting with trust.

Trust ? (xin) in Chinese has two components to the word, ? (ren) meaning person and ? (yan) meaning the spoken word. Trust ? means literally a person’s word. The adage “I give you my word”, “you can take my word for it”, “you have my word” all allude to one’s honor, trust and credibility.

Confucius said, “I do not know how a man without trust or credibility is to be acceptable, he is likened to a large carriage be made to go without the crossbar for yoking the oxen to, or a small carriage without the arrangement for yoking the horses.” In today’s parlance it would mean you cannot get anywhere with a person without credibility or trust as he is useless, likened to a car without an engine or a transmission shaft.

Confucius teaches that we should not only check that we are honest and trustworthy but we should also countercheck that we do not keep the company of the (friends who are) dishonest or untrustworthy, for that is how others would judge us.

This is central to the teaching of Confucius that it all begins with oneself, that one should be upright as only then can one get one’s house in order (referring to one’s family) and only if one’s house is in order is one fit to run a country. Perhaps these are the immeasurable things which Deming refers to.

There is a Chinese aphorism, "If you wish to know a person, look at his friends.” This is best illustrated by the partnership of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling who caused the collapse of Enron. The equivalent saying in English is that birds of a feather flock together.

Confucius laments that “Men who are not upright and who are arrogant, dishonest and ignorant, inept and untrustworthy are quite beyond my understanding.” These negative attributes are indeed quite ubiquitous in society and organizations 2,500 years after he uttered those words.

What check-list would the sage recommend to appraise trustworthiness and honesty? The discussion continues.