Elevate Your Leadership with Stoicism
As we grow into management and leadership roles, we are often taught how to lead from the wrong people. More often than not, we learn to lead by seeing the world through the lens of the leader immediately above us. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can often have us attached to outcomes, directions, and processes that aren’t really our own.
The question I invite you to chew on in that situation is this: Is it really your point of view if you were given the lens from someone else, and it’s already pointed where they were looking?
I’m a personal fan of Stoicism, and the avatars of the philosophy: Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. They demonstrated the tenets of great leadership by practicing control and mindfulness – essentially taking command of the things you can control and ditching everything else.
In this episode, I want to introduce you to the principles of Stoicism with a little history, and show you how it can elevate your leadership and legacy. Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below. [Subscribe Here]
Before going any further, you may already know Seneca. The quote, “sometimes even to live is an act of courage” is one of his more famous quotes. I’m sure you’ve undoubtedly seen memes of it on the internet. Consider this a crash course in the philosophy behind all those stoic quotes.
Studying John Maxwell will help you learn the irrefutable laws of leadership, but you’re only learning the approaches and processes. Leadership is often two-fold, one part is all about how you influence people, and the other is truly about how the world influences you.
If you’re a great influencer, but the world can easily sway you in any direction, your leadership makes you a mouthpiece, rather than a man of significance. This is often lost on those that move into leadership positions, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. For this, allow me to introduce you to Stoicism.
Old Definition (not inaccurate): A philosophy that flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. Stoics believed that people should strictly restrain their emotions in order to attain happiness and wisdom; hence, they refused to demonstrate either joy or sorrow.
Leadership Definition (modern & modified): As social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us, our interaction with nature, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.
Essentially, as a Stoic leader, you control things you can control and that influence your life, and you do not let other variables out of your control impact you. It doesn’t mean you’re emotionless, but it does mean you’re level-headed, logical, and practice great mindfulness.
In Letters from a Stoic, Seneca writes for a very narrow field of educated people –his closest friends and scholars– and it reflects this in his concepts on the frailty of human nature, as if he’s expressing warnings to those he cares about to pay attention.
More importantly, Roman Stoicism is a powerful philosophy for overcoming obstacles and achieving greatness by focusing on what truly matters. Stoics achieved contentment by not living against the reality of nature. In other words, they wouldn’t argue against the nature of things.
A modern example is you arguing that your boss should be more accommodating and give you more time off. The reality (nature) is that this boss has never done that, so arguing for it to happen is arguing against the reality of nature. You will only create internal frustration and will not find peace.
They also believed that material possessions provided only fleeting instances of happiness, and could be taken away without notice, therefore, it was frivolous to attach happiness to the acquisition of material items. Look, we’re talking about philosophers that lived between 100 and 200 A.D. – things are very different now!
We have social media, instant gratification, and the Goddamn Kardashians – we’re the furthest thing from stoic!
How do you elevate your leadership with toicism in the modern world?
Here are five ways to take it to the next level…
1. Reason Over Emotion
Great leadership is level-headed. Stoic leaders address obstacles with logic and reason, and seek solutions to overcome them. The biggest tenet to the logic and reason philosophy applies to self-mastery. Before you can try and control an event, obstacle, or any external circumstance, you must control yourself. Self-control and awareness is the only thing that succeeds 100% of the time.
Stoic leaders are fair and just leaders, and are the furthest thing from insecure. Wouldn’t it be a glorious thing to have leaders and managers that weren’t insecure, ruling with an iron fist? A cruel leader is a weak leader.
2. Engineered for Entrepreneurs
Because Stoicism accepts fate and the state of reality, it provides a space for entrepreneurs to practice misfortune and become stronger. It practices turning obstacles into opportunities and keeps the ego in check. Stoic entrepreneurs approach issues with a thirst for knowledge and data, rather than a zealous push for results or outcomes.
3. Authentic & Virtuous
Stoic leadership embraces flaws and authenticity, and operates with integrity. Rather than working to be something you’re not, you embrace who you are, play to your strengths, draw a line in the sand, and make sure not to compromise your values and cross that line.
Rather than wasting energy over the definition of good and bad, especially as a man and leader, focus on just being the best version of your authentic self. 90% of the time, it will elevate your leadership and make you a better man in the end anyway. Most “truths” discussed today are individual truths (perspectives) rather than being the truth. Stoic leaders recognize this, and apply it to even their own truths.
4. Ego Eliminator
Quite possibly the best aspect of Stoicism in leadership is the elimination of the ego. In these modern times, more and more companies are sprouting up being run by young entrepreneurs with big ideas. They’re savvy, smart, and well-connected. They are also, however, susceptible to social anxiety and uneducated decision-making.
For example, let’s imagine XYZ company just hit the scene and has a great product lineup. They are gathering market share and really dominating the business landscape. At the helm of XYZ is 27 year old Isaac. He’s a sharp guy, but he also thinks his shit don’t stink. His ego gets in the way of his success by alienating his staff and constantly challenging competition to “come at me, bro.”
It’s only a matter of time before XYZ crumbles under the weight of Isaac’s ego. If he practiced stoic leadership, his company could have global influence and possibly change the world. Does this show up in your life or company? Are you an Isaac? Do you work for an Isaac? It might be time to change…
5. Endurance like a Champ
The military practices Stoicism at its core. When newbies show up for basic, they are pushed to endure without complaint. They are taught the reality of things. They are taught the hierarchy of needs as it pertains to the brotherhood / family of his/her other soldiers. Should these soldiers be sent off to battle, they continue to practice a Stoic philosophy of keeping a level head, staying logical, and enduring through pain and discomfort with inner strength.
We tolerate way too much in our lives. We tolerate failure, betrayal, lies, fraud, and a general lack of integrity in the people and processes we rely on. We already have the endurance to handle all of it because we do it every day. But it doesn’t have to be our reality. It’s just our lens.
When we raise our expectations and see the reality in front of us, we take control and change our position. Sometimes that means getting a new job, getting a new social circle, or getting a new relationship. We can handle the pain of these changes if we practice Stoicism because we recognize the pain of transition as a part of the process.
You don’t control the world around you. You control how you respond to it. Tolerate less by responding differently, and there will be less to tolerate with each passing day.
Stoicism is all about getting out of your own way by recognizing you are not a victim here. You are not at the mercy of things that happen to you. You are an active player in your life by taking control of the way you respond to life, and letting go of the emotional rigamarole of passing bullshit.
Focus on what truly matters and skip the bullshit.
What do you think of these Stoic principles?
Are there any you think I missed? What impact do you think Stoicism could have in your life?
Share in the comments below so we can connect!