Stoic Leadership Lessons from Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius ruled The Roman Empire from 161 to 180 A.D. and is renowned for being a wise and noble leader whom Plato referred to as “The Philosopher King”. His own reflections on leadership and what it means to lead a good an virtuous life were captured in a series of books known as “The Meditations“, seminal texts in the school of Stoicism which are to this day often quoted.

The field of leadership is supported by thousands of books, videos and training courses, but of all of the texts I’ve read and the courses I’ve studied, I’ve yet to find a more pragmatic guide to being an authentic leader.

Marcus Aurelius "Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts."
Marcus Aurelius “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.”

Here are 10 rules, as prescribed by Marcus Aurelius, that every great leader should know and practice.

People exist to help one another. Mankind was meant to live in harmony, “That we came into the world for the sake of one another.” Harmony is the state of flow and productivity.

 

Be mindful of others’ humanity. Treat every person with dignity.

 

Realise that most mistakes, are the result of ignorance. Consider your role in their ignorance, respond to mistakes in an educational way and stay in control.

 

Do not overly exalt yourself. “For outward show is a wonderful perverter of the reason.” Let them exalt you through your actions.

 

Avoid quick judgments of others’ actions. “A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding.” Understand the reason behind action before responding.

 

Maintain self-control. You can choose to spend your time and energy languishing over things that have already happened, or you can choose to be calm and address any problems that arise. Understand the difference between responding and reacting.

 

Recognise that others can hurt you only if you let them. The only actions that should truly hurt you are things you do that are shameful, since you are in control of your own self-worth and values.

 

Know that pessimism can easily overtake you. “How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them.” Practice situational objectivity and demonstrate this in your actions with others.

 

Practice kindness. Sincere kindness is “invincible” and more powerful than any negative act.

 

Do not expect bad people to exempt you from their destructive ways. It is “the act of a tyrant” to think that you can try to change these kinds of people or persuade them to treat you differently. Behave in a constructive and compassionate manner, they must also understand that there are those who find meaning in destroying others.

 

These and more insightful advice that has stood the test of time can be found in The Meditations. Available on Amazon but also for free online on the Classic Archive website here.

Go deeper

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind.” Marcus Aurelius

Stoic philosophy is a key component of my coaching approach, both to leadership roles, and also as a personal mindset. If you would like to discuss how we could work together, please contact me.

Further Reading

“Meditations”,  Aurelius, Marcus. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2014. Link here.

“A Timeline of Hellenistic Philosophy”. Freeland, Cynthia. University of Houston. Link here.

Matt

Experienced business leader, mentor and coach, with fascinations for technology, psychology and ancient philosophies. A self-confessed techno hippy with a unique talent for bringing the best out in people.

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