Leaders possess qualities that are difficult to define. Marcus Aurelius offers pragmatic leadership advice in Meditations. One of the most important and strait-forward pieces is found in Book 3.
(for more on Stoicism and leadership check out Shane Parrish at Farnam Street)
" How to act:
Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without
forethought, with misgivings.
Don’t gussy up your thoughts.
No surplus words or unnecessary actions.
Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult, a citizen,
a Roman, a ruler. Taking up his post like a soldier
and patiently awaiting his recall from life. Needing
no oath or witness.
Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help. Or
serenity supplied by others.
To stand up straight—not straightened."
Aurelius gives us six important qualities of a leader.
To lead like a stoic, let's look at each phrase individually.
1. Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, with misgivings.
Impulsivity is a sign of weak leadership. Though you may not know what lay ahead, you can prepare:
Leadership decisions are tough. Aurelius recommends that we are thoughtful and confident. Act without reservations and be prepared to learn from mistakes. As John Wooden says
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
2. Don’t gussy up your thoughts.
In other words: FOCUS. We follow up this thought with another from Aurelius:
"You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that. And it would be obvious at once from your answer that your thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones—the thoughts of an unselfish person, one unconcerned with pleasure and with sensual indulgence generally, with squabbling, with slander and envy, or anything else you’d be ashamed to be caught thinking."
In a world of defined by distraction, Aurelius stresses focus. The ability to focus for long periods of time is a distinguishing characteristic often discussed by Cal Newport and Bill Gates. Here is Cal Newport commenting on the focus of Bill Gates.
3. No surplus words or unnecessary actions.
I was given good advice as a young educator:"don't be that guy at faculty meetings." "That guy" is the faculty member that has an opinion on everything and feels it necessary to share it. It seems that there is a negative correlation with the volume of opinions and value of opinions
Get to the point, stay within yourself, and keep it simple.
4. Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult, a citizen, a Roman, a ruler. Taking up his post like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life. Needing no oath or witness.
As an educator your a role model, community member, faculty member, and RULER. You LEAD. The only oath or witness an educator needs is knowing that their hard work helps kids. Take your post like a soldier and jump into the trenches.
5. Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help. Or serenity supplied by others.
Positive psychology is a penetrating and effective means to manage others. Happy people are more successful says Achor in "Happiness Advantage". When discussing a meta-analysis on the happiness-success relationship Achor mentions:
"happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy."
Happiness is contagious. In fact "one persons happiness can affect another's for as much as a year."
Jump-start productivity in your building by being the viral vector for happiness.
More on happiness and teacher retention here and here.
6. To stand up straight—not straightened."
For two reasons.
First, because you love your profession. Stand up strait because you believe in the power of education.
Second, because your body language says a lot. Standing up strait with broad shoulders and a bold chest is a sign of confidence. Hunching over or tilting away from a person is a sign of weakness and vulnerability.
Learn more about body language from Joe Navarro in his book "What Every Body is Saying."
Stoics have been long known to be fearless. Lead like one.
Thanks for reading.