Leadership lessons from Confucius: calm and at ease

calm and at ease

子曰:「君子坦蕩蕩,小人長戚戚。」
Confucius said: “A leader is calm and at ease; a petty person is anxious and on edge.”

Leadership is about being comfortable with yourself and confident in your ability to handle whatever comes flying at you in this rapidly changing world. At its base is a strong ethical foundation that enables you to lead a productive personal and family life and contribute to your community and society at large.

This strong ethical foundation is built through a combination of studying the lessons of the past and putting the principles and values you’ve learned into practice in your daily life. When you make mistakes and errors of judgment, the key is to reflect and learn from them so that you are better equipped to deal with new challenges that occur in the future. The increased self-awareness and self-control that this process of self-cultivation gives you will help you remain calm and at ease.

Without a solid ethical base, it can be very tempting to let issues slide that should be dealt with immediately fester until they metastasize into problems that are way beyond your control. It can also lead you to go down pathways and to make choices that with the benefit of hindsight you would have avoided. With so many plates spinning in the air, it’s all too easy to become anxious and on edge as you fight to stop them from crashing down to the ground.

To remain calm and at ease, you need a clear direction to head in and a map and compass to guide you along the way. If you have no idea where you are going, you will be forever looking over your shoulder like a petty person – anxious and on edge.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 36 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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