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What is Stoicism?
With origins in ancient Athens, Stoicism redefined the source of happiness. It cannot be found in the external material world but in pursuit of the cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Stoicism teaches that hard problems are good for you and that the solutions to those problems often take time to solve through objective analysis.It explains that both good times and bad times are transient. When you manage how you feel about an event, you manage the event better. You’ve applied cool objectivity rather than hot emotions. The four tenets offer a framework for making very strong decisions in every dimension of challenges:
- Wisdom asks what is in your control and what is outside your control as the logical basis for solving problems.
- Temperance brings objectivity and emotional neutrality to any debate or decision.
- Courage is a principle of self-sacrifice where you do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because you receive a reward or accolade from it.
- Justice is the source of all virtues, defined as thought and action working together for the common good.
Stoicism emphasizes objective logic and maintaining an even emotional state, rather than personalizing events outside your control. At a time in the United States when everybody is so quick to get mad and others risk getting canceled, Stoicism can bring equanimity to the dialogue. And where there is dialogue, there is a significantly greater chance of solution when people are calm and willing to listen.Related: Maintaining Positive Dynamics at the Executive Table: The Key to a Winning Company
How does Stoicism apply to leadership?
In turbulent times, people are often afraid and feel threatened from the top to the bottom of an organization, which leads to poor behaviors based on those fears and threats. As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to be calm and steady in a crisis — and to make decisions that benefit the whole, rather than act from self-interest.Most people tend to make a judgment and then look for facts that justify the judgment — a causal connection to explain their choices. In the world of Stoic thinking, that’s entirely backward. Instead, take in all the data, listen to everyone, and then make the best decision possible.The first time you really apply Stoicism to the way you lead, it can feel uncomfortable and disconcerting because you are likely fundamentally changing how you made decisions and interacted with people previously. But with the calm levity and consistency it brings, in my experience, it always leads to the best decisions with the greatest chance of positive outcomes. Related: These 7 Lessons From the Ancient Stoics Are Relevant for Entrepreneurs Today
Stoicism in turbulent times
When hard decisions must be made, we need to recognize that we are interdependent. Both in good times and difficult times, for good or bad.As a leader, if you are afraid, your team is going to be afraid. If you are consistent and steady, your team will be as well.Emotions are often tricky little liars. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are often at the root of poorly considered decisions that increase the chances of bad outcomes rather than the chances of good ones. These behaviors often serve to block and isolate you from better solutions.Leaders who are overly responsive to their emotional state make reactive (and often incorrect) decisions because they are motivated by correcting the uncomfortable emotional state rather than by doing the right thing. Stoicism counters emotional reactions and helps leaders calmly make a decision that is best for the team unit — not just one individual.When you lead with stoicism, allow your steady countenance to show others that you will make better decisions and build greater trust and psychological safety for your teamStoicism is vital in uncertain times because it teaches you to bear the discomfort of difficult decisions knowing that if you follow its tenets, you will come to the best answer for yourself, your mission and those that rely upon you every single time.