Leadership lessons from Confucius: the blurring of the lines

blurring of the lines

In bed, he didn’t lie stiffly like a corpse; at home, he was informal and relaxed. (1)

We are living at a time when the distinction between our working and personal lives has never been more blurred. Thanks to ubiquitous connectivity, we are increasingly expected to be available at all times – no matter what day or time it is. Even if we aren’t answering email, our minds are still busy spinning over work issues in the background like the cogs and wheels of a clock.

While this blurring of the lines may lead to a short-term boost in efficiency, over the long term it stifles productivity and innovation. Nobody can think creatively when they are stuck on a treadmill. All they can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible. But even with the best will in the world, they will eventually tire and put in the minimum effort required to survive.

Achieving a work-life balance isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s essential to draw a clear line between the office and the home so that we can build deeper connections with our family and friends and remain refreshed and energized. Once your enthusiasm and passion have been completely drained, it can take years to get them back again.


This article features a translation of Chapter 24 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) If a person was receiving a guest in ancient China, he would be obliged to sit in a respectful but highly uncomfortable posture with his back straight and the lower part of his legs criss-crossed underneath him. No wonder Confucius preferred to be relaxed and informal at home when there were no visitors!

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

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