top of page

Stoicism and Leadership

For many years now, I have been a student of Stoicism. A good friend of mine years ago introduced me to a book called "Meditations" by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who governed ancient Rome from 161 to 180 AD. He was also a stoic philosopher. Meditations is one of the seminal works of stoicism. Stoicism embraces a realistic view of the world and the human beings that inhabit it.

The main principles of stoicism are:

  • Wisdom

  • Courage

  • Justice

  • Temperance

These are all traits that we can all espouse to follow in our daily lives as men, women and leaders. There is also a phrase in stoicism called "Memento Mori." It basically translates to "Remember, you must die." Now, this isn't as morbid as you think. It really refers to the fact that we are on this planet for a finite period of time. What are we going to do with that time? Fret? Worry? Lash out? Be depressed? Or will we use that time to do the best we can as leaders and be productive members of society.

Leaders, as I have often written about, have to be strategic and think down range about where to take their organizations for maximum ROI. We all get iso involved in our meetings, video calls, business travels, performance reviews, budget planning etc., that we often can't see the forest from the trees. Besides the traits described above that stoicism espouses, it also trains you to "live in the moment."

I know. This is easier said than done. I still struggle at times to live in the moment. To appreciate this day, and the fact that this day will never repeat itself. As leaders, do you take the time to appreciate the moment you are in right now? To reflect on your team, appreciate them for the hard work they are doing and letting them know? To take the time to appreciate what you have in life and not what you don't have? To smell the roses. Think about a time ten years ago when your hair was on fire over some business issue. Back then, it consumed you and probably with good reason. But do you think about it now? No. It may have been important back then, but in the grand scheme of things, did you obsess over it to the point where you lost sleep, had high blood pressure and forgot to enjoy the fact that you were alive, breathing and healthy?

Another aspect of stoicism is to realize that things, sometimes, bad things, will happen to you. It is inevitable. A bad boss who ruins your day. Macro economic factors that cause your business to slow down radically, forcing you to cut headcount and get rid of pet projects. A diagnosis that turns your world upside down. Bad things will happen. Many of these things are out of your control. But what you do control is how you react to these bad things. 

Stoicism (along with my faith) helped me to get back on track after my wife, Karen passed. I was angry with the world and asked myself continually why this had to happen. I probably wasn't the best boss at the time, (don't ask my direct reports - smile) but I knew enough to get away and reflect. I went away for a week by myself. Checked into a hotel in Arizona and did indeed look inwardly. I realized that I, the doctors, our friends and family did everything they could. In the end, Karen's death was out of our control. Should I grieve. Absolutely. But understanding that I had a job to do at Microsoft and that I had control of my actions, helped me to get back on track. That and a lot of prayer. I came back from that week a better person and hopefully a better leader. I was blessed to have great direct reports who supported me and understood. They were patient.

The world of business continues to become ever more complex. It takes a heck of a lot more to be a leader today than when I first started on that journey. But remember, you are not here forever. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Try to find it within you to live each day to the fullest. Everyday won't be sunshine and roses. But bad times do eventually pass. Why ruin your health or relationships because something bad lands on your lap or desk. Just deal with it. It's life. When you show calmness in the face of bad things happening, you model great leadership. We are human. We react, sometimes badly. But we own our reactions and can (and must) adjust so we can make good decisions and keep the morale of our troops up. 

Try reading Meditations or check out the philosophy of stoicism. There are a lot of materials out there. One of my favorites is a guy by the name of Ryan Holiday. He has a YouTube channel called

"The Daily Stoic." Really great content. 

I think you will find these resources a wonderful addition to your leadership toolkit. 

Thanks also to all of you who subscribe to my Ronin Leadership Podcast. We reached a milestone in having 1000 subscribers to the channel. If you haven't subscribed, I urge you to check it out and subscribe. We have great content and more wonderful guests discussing business and leadership coming soon!

Until the next edition. 

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page