From famed Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the beloved United States President Teddy Roosevelt, some of the most successful leaders throughout history have all shared something in common: a belief in stoicism. This philosophy has become a time-honored one among leaders because its core tenants resonate deeply with the pursuit of excellence, greatness and success. Motivated leaders latch on to stoic principles as a way to guide themselves, during both good times and bad.
If you’re rising the ranks and climbing the ladder, constantly seeking new leadership positions, chances are, you have a passing familiarity with stoic principles. It’s time to take the next step in embracing them: learning them at face value.
Here are the most important core principles of the stoic leader, and how they contribute to results that’ll rank you among history’s greatest stewards.
1. Focus on what you can control
You can’t control the outcome of a situation, but you can control your perspective and perception of it.
It seems obvious in hindsight, but stoic leaders take care to not get caught up in their emotions when things don’t go as planned. Letting negative feelings run away with them only makes stoics less efficient and less effective. Instead, stoic leaders observe their feelings and use them as a barometer to make informed, rational decisions. By understanding how they feel, they can accurately interpret circumstances and know when it’s time to call on virtue (or rest) for strength to meet the next hurdle.
In other words: quit worrying about what could go wrong and start looking at how to make things right.
2. Take action and lead by example
You can’t expect employees to meet expectations that are beyond what you’re willing to do. Stoic leaders know that one of the greatest things about leadership is showing others how it’s done by putting in the same level of effort.
This is often where stoic principles can be misunderstood because stoics don’t seek praise or recognition. They simply embrace the call to action they give their team and work to support them. They don’t delegate tasks or assign work for the sake of working; stoic leaders give direction because they know what’s required to achieve results.
You don’t need to get down in the trenches with your employees, but they need to know that you will, without hesitation.
3. Be virtuous and put aside your ego
No stoic leader would ever consider themselves infallible. They know that their success is built on the shoulders of their employees, and all stoics show gratitude for this support rather than take it for granted.
In addition to being grateful, stoics don’t spend a lot of time on self-promotion. They know that one of the best ways for their employees to feel supported is by putting down their own egos and celebrating the success of each member of the team.
When stoic leaders do promote themselves, it’s because they’re quick to take responsibility for a failure or miscommunication and make sure that everyone knows where the mistake happened.
4. Practice resilience when faced with failure
Stoicism is founded on the idea that happiness isn’t found in the pursuit of external objects or circumstances, but in how people react and adapt in response to life’s circumstances. This stoic tenet rings particularly true when it comes to failure: stoic leaders see falling down as a chance to learn and develop. They don’t avoid failure; rather, they embrace it as a chance to grow and learn from their mistakes.
In stoic philosophy, anxiety over the possibility of failure is what guarantees it will happen. Stoics see being hesitant to fall as the biggest form of complacency in achieving success. Instead, they’re quick to see failures as opportunities to improve, knowing that the only thing worse than falling is never getting back up.
5. Act with empathy and understanding
When leaders fail to see where their employees are coming from, it can cost morale and create a rift in the workplace. It takes empathy to identify with differing opinions and perspectives, and to validate those who hold them. Stoics take the time to practice empathy, to ensure every member of their team feels valued and heard.
By understanding where their employees are coming from, stoic leaders know how to approach them constructively and avoid criticism. Instead of leaning into negativity and focusing on the problem, stoics approach problems with positive intent, seeking a resolution that empowers people, instead of chiding them.
Good stoic leaders know that mistakes will always happen, but it’s how they deal with those mistakes that demonstrates good leadership.
6. Eliminate toxic emotions and their effects
Stoic leaders know that the constant stress and anxiety that come from negative emotions have a big impact on their team. Shedding this negativity allows them to operate more effectively and, in turn, be better equipped to lead their people.
Stoics are masters at taking these emotions, turning them on their heads, and using them for good. They take feelings of anger or frustration and transform them into fuel to propel their teams forward. It’s about much more than finding a silver lining; it’s about looking for the most constructive path forward, fully cognizant that not everything is as good as it could be.
To paraphrase the great stoic Seneca: to feel is human. We can’t help how we feel, but we can help how we react to our feelings.
7. Never blame others; shoulder the burden
No one is perfect. Good leaders understand that blaming others for a problem is a great way to avoid taking responsibility for it. Rather than point fingers and throw people under the bus, stoic leaders take all the blame upon themselves.
By taking the fall, even top-level executive leaders ensure every member of their team feels supported—that they can take risks without fearing criticism or repercussion. These individuals know that success is about more than getting it right; it’s also about being able to recover when you get it wrong.
Stoic leadership means taking responsibility for mistakes, even when they aren’t necessarily your fault. Hold yourself accountable and you’ll earn the respect of those you lead.
Be the stoic leader you want to be
Stoicism is a never-ending strive to be better. It’s not enough to wake up and understand these stoic principles—you need to put them to work each and every day, and truly live by them. As you do, you’ll shape yourself as a leader that people want to follow, and cement your legacy as another great leader who followed the path of stoicism.