“The fisherman know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never seen these dangers sufficient reason for staying ashore.” – Vincent van Gogh
Stoicism was a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the third century BC. Its name is actually derived from the Greek stoa, meaning porch, because that’s where Zeon first taught his students. This philosophy is based around the four cardinal pillars of self-control, courage, justice, and wisdom, and is rooted in the belief that it is our perception of things – rather than the things themselves – that cause most of our trouble. That is, of course, to assume we struggle with these disciplines. Stoicism teaches that we can’t control or influence anything outside of what philosopher Epictetus called our “reasonable choice” – our ability to use our reason to choose how we categorize, respond, and reorient ourselves to external events.
Many of the mental models and methodologies I share in my recent bestselling book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to An Extraordinary Life are founded in these very principles. So what can leaders learn from Stoicism about resilience, adaptability, accountability and the skills necessary for successfully leading change?
Here are nine quotes related to Stoicism all leaders should live by.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
- How often do I spend time worrying about organizational challenges (internal or external) that I have no control or sphere of influence over? The economy? Interest rates? Global pandemics? Changes in the competitive landscape?
- If I could better categorize and respond to foreseen or unforeseen obstacles – only investing time, emotion and energy in the things I can control – how much could I gain as a leader? How would my team benefit? Would this level of self-control and discipline enhance my situational awareness?
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”
- As a leader, have I clearly articulated the vision and purpose behind our mission? Have we created a cultural environment that is values-oriented and accepting of change? In fact, do we embrace change. Do we thrive in adversity?
- How successful is our organization or team at combating change fatigue and identifying burnout? Are we deeply in tune with our team’s level of engagement and willingness to participate in change initiatives? To even be change evangelists?
“He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.”
- Do I know when to lead and when to follow? Do I exhibit an appropriate level of humility while still leading with competence, commitment, and extreme ownership?
- Do I take myself and my role too seriously? Am I willing to break down behavioral silos and barriers in order to connect with my team on a deeper level? To be vulnerable? What benefit could this have in building trust?
“No person is free who is not master of himself.”
- What role does discipline play ion my personal and professional life? Do I have daily routines designed to fuel wisdom, wellness, gratitude, and continuous improvement?
- Without self-control, can anyone ever truly be free? How could I integrate the philosophy of self-mastery into how I motivate my team? If the team was grounded in authentic autonomy, how much more dynamic and adaptable could we be on our battlefield?
“It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.”
- As a leader, do I exhibit courage in my decision-making ability? Do I encourage the team to tackle challenges head on, take calculated risk, and dare to fail? If not, why?
- Does our team work consistently beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone by being relentlessly innovative in our approach? Do I (we) embody a GROWTH mindset or a FIXED mindset?
“The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
- Do I lead with a healthy sense of urgency and paranoia? How well do I balance looking to the horizon for threats and opportunities with avoiding getting stuck in the bunker of analysis paralysis?
- Do we lean into complexity, uncertainty, and adversity? Or avoid it at all costs?
Stoicism offers a way of thinking that has practical benefits for leaders and business owners which is why it has been studied and utilized my world-renowned professional coaches, business founders, entrepreneurs, celebrities and military leaders. Ultimately, it supports the concept that the best leaders are lifelong learners and never satisfied with the status quo.