Leadership lessons from Confucius: keeping your mat straight

keeping your mat straight

He didn’t sit on a mat unless it was straight.

Take a look at your workspace. Is everything laid out neatly so that you can easily find what you need? Is the plant a colleague gave you a few months ago healthy or clinging on for dear life? And how about those photos you have displayed of your family? Can you see them clearly through the dust covering the frame?

Take a look at your filing system on your PC. Are all the folders neatly organized so that you can easily find the presentation you gave at the last quarterly review meeting? What about all the images you shot at the last trade show and now need to incorporate into that presentation you forgot to update?

Making sure a mat is straight before sitting down on it may seem a tad pedantic, but if you can’t even be bothered to make sure it’s in the right place how can you possibly expect to be able to manage your schedule, workload, and other complex aspects of your life?

Keeping your mat straight requires time and self-discipline, but if you let it slip out of place you will never be organized enough to become truly effective.


This article features a translation of Chapter 12 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) It was the custom for people in ancient China to sit on mats or cushions rather than stools or chairs. According to ritual convention, these had to be clean and tidy and laid out so that their four sides were exactly parallel with the four walls of the room they were in.

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

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