Zhou Enlai

How to be a Good Leader

Written: April 22, 1943
First Published: 1981 (English translation)
Source: Selected Works of Zhou Enlai, Volume 1, pages 146-150
Transcribed: Comrade Zero for The Marxist-Leninist
HTML Markup: Mike B. for MIA
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (July 2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

[Editorial note: The outline of a talk to cadres of the Southern Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, originally entitled "Outline of a Talk on Leadership and Review of Work"]

I. The definition of a leader

Any cadre may at some time have to take up the work of leadership, and very likely he is already doing such work. Therefore, the work of leadership concerns leading cadre at all levels, whether the lower, middle or upper.

Among the staff members at Hongyan and Zengjiayan there is only a difference in the kind of work each does, but no distinction is drawn between the leaders and the led, still less between cadres and non-cadres. Although some comrades working in Hongyan and Zengjiayan and in the office of New China Daily are not directly shouldering the responsibilities of leadership, they are in fact leaders.

II. The stand a leader should take

A leading cadre must proceed from the standpoint of the Party in everything he does. But this is only a general statement. More specifically, a leading cadre should have the following qualities:

1. A firm Marxist-Leninist world outlook and a revolutionary out-look on life;

2. Devotion to principle;

3. Faith in the strength of the people;

4. Dedication to study;

5. A tenacious fighting spirit; and

6. A high sense of discipline.

III. The leaders and the leading organizations

1. Collective leadership and leadership of each level by the next higher level - unified leadership, centralization and democracy (discussion and division of labour).

2. Individual responsibility and individual leadership - this is especially needed in the Great Rear Area and is by no means negated by collective leadership.

3. Direct personal intervention and decision from above - this is not the usual practice but one employed under special circumstances, or to set an example.

IV. What is correct leadership

I shall now elaborate on the three points Stalin once made:

1. Decisions made must be correct. First, leaders should evaluate the situation and anticipate possible changes, seeking out the characteristics of a given place at a given time. Second, they should relate all this to the general task of the Party and determine the tasks and policy for a given period. Third, in line with this policy, they should formulate slogans and tactics appropriate to the current situation. Fourth, they should then work out realistic plans and instructions. They should do all this through in-depth investigation and study of actual conditions, linking up the results with Party tenets and principles.

2. Correct decisions must be implemented. First, leaders should organize discussions of ways to implement the plan and carry out instructions. Second, they should carefully select capable persons and put them in charge of the plan's implementation. Third, they should organize efforts to realize the Party's plan. Fourth, they should organize efforts to realize the Party's plan. Fourth, they should personally take part in the implementation so as to set an example. By so doing, they can discover through practice whether the Party's line and tactics are correct or whether they should be modified.

3. There must be review of the actual implementation of the decisions. Methods of making such reviews: (a) we must note tangible results of work rather than promises; (b) we must not merely look at plans on paper, but inquire whether tasks are being performed conscientiously or only perfunctorily; (c) we must pay attention to content rather than to form and examine whether a decision is really being correctly carried out or is being distorted; (d) reviews should not only be conducted from top to bottom, but also from bottom to top; (e) reviews should be systematic and regular; and (f) leader should personally participate in reviews.

As Stalin has said, leaders must maintain close ties with the masses, and the experience gained by both leaders and masses must be synthesized. Only thus can there be correct leadership.

V. The tasks of leaders

Comrade Mao Zedong says that the tasks of leaders consists in using cadres well and implementing policies. This is true. Breaking the down, I think, they are as follows:

1. Leading cadres should pay close attention to ideological and political leadership. This requires that they constantly raise their own ideological level and strengthen their own political training. We ask our comrades to concentrate on the following: (a) placing emphasis on important matters; (b) sharpening political vigilance; (c) raising their theoretical level; (d) intensifying ideological struggle both inside and outside the Party; and (e) actively publicizing the policies and achievements of the Party.

2. Leading cadres should give careful thought to organizational leadership. Once the political line is laid down, organizational work decides everything. We draw our comrades' attention to the following points: (a) organizational leadership should be raised to the level of political leadership; in other words, all kinds of work should be put on a principled basis and connected with political tasks; (b) all organizational and day-to-day work should serve to guarantee the fulfilment of the Party's political tasks and the realization of its work plans; (c) importance should be attached to the Party's day-to-day leadership, so that Party organizations stay close to the grass roots and their work becomes even more concrete; (d) Party organizations and the masses must be mobilized to strive to surmount all difficulties; and (e) we should combat all forms of opportunism (such as perfunctoriness, empty talk, arrogance, bureaucracy, formalism, and red-taped routinism), corruption, degeneration, etc.

3. Prudence should be exercised in selecting cadres and assigning work. This is also part of organizational work, but it can be taken separately. Both political qualifications and work competence are indispensable criteria for selecting cadres, but political trustworthiness takes precedence. Stalin once pointed out the harm done to the Party when people made appointments not in accordance with principle. He said that such persons were followed by a large "entourage" wherever they went and that they employed only those whom they regarded as their "own" men. In one of his reports on the rectification movement, Comrade Mao Zedong, too, criticized such persons for being "dishonest". That was the failing of those "imperial envoys who rushed everywhere". Given a cadre's political trustworthiness, it is still important to use him properly (in the light of time, place and circumstances).

4. Work should be reviewed. The performance of working personnel and the implementation of the work plan must be reviewed. As Stalin has said, the objectives of the review are: first, to get to know the qualifications of the cadres; second, to determine the virtues and defects of the executive apparatus; and third, to determine the virtues and defects of the tasks or instructions that are set. Some leaders think reviews of this sort are likely to expose their own weaknesses, marring their prestige or shaking their self-confidence. This is incorrect. Leaders enhance their prestige by correcting their mistakes, not by covering them up, and by immersing themselves in hard work, not by bragging or boasting. Confidence will only be strengthened and not weakened through the correction of mistakes. It is only those who are vain and concerned with face-saving who fear the exposure of mistakes.

5. Go among the masses. The leaders should not only educate the masses but should also learn from them. The reason is that the leaders' own knowledge is incomplete and their experience insufficient. Leading positions in themselves cannot bestow knowledge and experience, so it is essential to go to the people and draw experience from them. We ask that comrades: (a) get close to the people, maintain contact with them, and to some extent become one with them; (b) heed the voice of the people; (c) learn from them; and (d) educate them instead of tailing behind them.

VI. Leading the masses and befriending them

1. The masses are not lead in the same way as Party members. The way we lead the masses and the attitude we take towards them should not make them feel that we are exercising leadership.

2. The basic method of leading masses in persuasion, and definitely not command. Only in situations when it is necessary and when the majority agree while a minority still do not, may we compel the minority to carry out the decisions of the majority.

3. The leaders themselves should play an exemplary role in giving leadership to the masses and befriending them.

4. When necessary, leaders should ignore insults hurled at them.

5. Leaders must never underestimate the role they play or the influence they exert, and must work prudently and cautiously.

VII. The art of leadership

According to the art of leadership as expounded by Lenin and Stalin, leaders should not run too far ahead of a movement, nor should they lag behind. Rather, they should grasp the key task and push the movement forward.

According to the art of leadership as expounded by Comrade Mao Zedong, they should take into account the over-all situation, think in terms of the majority and work together with our allies.

VIII. Work methods

1. Examine theoretical tenets and principles in the course of struggle;

2. Determine and review policies in the course of concrete work;

3. Improve work in a revolutionary spirit;

4. Promote democracy and encourage criticism and self-criticism;

5. Employ mainly persuasion and not administrative fiat. Resort to orders only in emergency situations.

IX. Work style

1. Lenin's style of work consisted of: Russian revolutionary sweep; and American efficiency

2. Comrade Mao Zedong's style of work consists of: The modesty and realism of the Chinese people; the simplicity and industriousness of the Chinese peasants; the love of study and deep thought of the intellectual; the flexibility and cool-headedness of the revolutionary soldier; and the tenacity and staunchness of a Bolshevik.

3. Combat all forms of opportunism manifested in day-to-day work. At present, we must especially combat perfunctoriness, empty talk, arrogance, formalism, routinism and all acts which sabotage the fine traditions of the Party and army.


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