When Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, stated that “that alone is your power, which is our own work; and in this class are our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. On the contrary, what is not in our power are our bodies, possessions, glory, and power”1, he was following the steps of Zeno of Citium, founder of stoicism.
The stoicism, as a way of thinking, brings along some important lessons that can be applied to leadership. Thus, I’ve decided to bring this topic to my blog.
Leadership starts with self-management. And that exactly is what stoicism preaches.
The amount of complexity and the pace of changes make leaders’ work difficult. The uncertainty triggers fears and different sort of emotions. For a leader, being able to manage their emotional field is essential; otherwise, they’ll feel stressed and struggle when making decisions.
Stoicism means meeting difficulties with patience and acceptance, focusing on what is under our control circle. For stoics, there is this concept called “control dichotomy”.
There are things that we can control, and other things that don’t depend on us. Only by focusing on what is under our control is that we can make a difference. So, there is no point in wasting time and energy trying to change what is not under our control; and thus, we need to be patient and accept it.
This doesn’t mean we become insensitive or without feelings, but we can differentiate between what is happening is under our control or not, helping in making decisions on how to improve the situation from what we can do.
Circle of control
This concept has also been developed by Stephen Covey in his book “Seven habits of highly effective people”. For Covey, there are two circles: the circle of concern, which represents everything that concerns us but over which we don’t have much influence. And the circle of control (or influence) representing everything we can control or influence somehow.
Same as stoicism, this model helps us identify where to put or energy and time, leaving alone what we can’t change.
This is related with another Stoic concept, negative visualization.
Negative visualization is about preparing the mind for the worst situation with two objectives. First, appreciate more what you have. Second, be prepared for what could happen. Since life is uncertain, bad news is something that we should not avoid. According to stoicism, avoiding only make us weaker in the long term.
This is also an important lesson for leaders: by thinking ahead, we can examine the potential issue with enough distance to make better decisions. Moreover, we can study different angles and approaches, focusing on what we can do.
Negative visualization is not about being negative and let bad news dragged us down. On the contrary, it’s a tool to find a way out before we’re immersed on the problem.
In summary, the more we work in our circle of control, the better we’ll be able to manage our emotions and make better decisions, being prepared for what could happen, without forgetting that there are factors that we can’t change.
That is what leaders can learn from stoicism.