Perhaps the word stoic makes you think of someone calm and expressionless. You may imagine a stoic leader handling pressure without cracking or showing big displays of emotion. That’s how we most commonly use the term, but it is actually derived from Stoicism, an ancient school of philosophy that is more profound than that. The Stoics focused on living a virtuous life – their four most important virtues to cultivate were courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance.
Some leaders embrace Stoicism without even realizing it because they embody these virtues when facing modern-day challenges. They don’t get swayed by impulses and emotions and focus on rational thinking. And they are actually more productive. Below are six of their productivity-boosting habits to help you make the most of this ancient philosophy.
Why Stoic leaders are more productive
“From stoicism we get patience, level-headedness, gratitude and perseverance,” says Ash Beckham a speaker, equality advocate and author of Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader. “So when we face adversity, which inevitably, as leaders, we will, stoicism allows us to steady the ship.”
“When leaders are steady and balanced, and not thrown into emotion by the challenges that they face, [their team] feels safe.”That psychological safety helps teams make better decisions and gives them the capacity to deal with issues more productively.
According to Beckham, stoic leaders are incredibly effective in how they use their energy because they focus on the things that they can control. “We’re not knocked off course by the emotional peaks and valleys that come from business and leadership,” she says.
Productivity-boosting habits that Stoic leaders embrace
1. Never take things personally
“Leaders who embrace stoicism don’t take things personally. They own what’s in their control and don’t waste energy worrying about what others think, say, or do,” says Vanessa Hagerbaumer, founder and head coach at V & CO Coaching, who recently worked with a client who found stoicism helpful and practical. “My client freed up a lot of energy recognizing that what others perceive is on them.”
Freed up energy means more mental space to stay focused on your goals. Plus, not taking things personally can go a long way when it comes to navigating workplace conflict productively.
2. Accept what is
Stoics practiced the art of acquiescence, the idea of accepting things you can’t control as is – including problems and challenges. “Don’t waste time and energy wishing things were different, thinking that people or things should be another way, or being at odds with the reality of things. Instead, learn to accept and be with what is,” adds Hagerbaumer. The productivity benefit? Instead of pushing against the struggle and feeling even more stuck, you’ll see things more clearly and thus become more open to constructive solutions and creative next moves.
3. Cultivate emotional awareness
It’s normal to experience emotions. Stoicism is not about being emotionless, but about being aware of your emotional state and how it’s affecting you (and your productivity).
“When you are practicing stoicism, you don’t get overly excited when the view is great from the top, and you don’t get bogged down when things aren’t going great either. You have the emotional guardrails to handle emotional highs and lows that knock you off course,” says Beckham.
In other words, stoic leaders aren’t as frazzled by a meeting gone wrong or a difficult conversation because they observe their emotions about the event instead of letting them get the best of their entire day or week.
4. Make the best of failure
This attitude also helps them approach failure in a productive way – stoic leaders expect failure and see it as a stepping stone to learning and opportunities.
“Stoics believe in a growth mindset: failure as a springboard to growth. Startups embrace the idea of failure as an integral part of the path to discovery. Failing fast is productive because it saves costs and other resources in the long run,” according to Hagerbaumer.
5. Assess goals objectively
This means that they are able to assess their goals and progress productively too. “With patience and the ability to endure, we get to a place where one individual action doesn’t make or break us,” says Beckham.
Stoic leaders don’t get discouraged when they fail to meet a quarterly team objective. They accept what is and focus on assessing the situation objectively, which allows them to keep going and adjust their plan accordingly.
6. Play the long game
The Stoics believed in the pursuit of a virtuous life. This pursuit, by definition, takes place through consistent efforts over the course of a lifetime. Stoic leaders play the long game too when it comes to their work goals. Beckham recommends stepping away from the trenches of your daily work for at least a few moments every day to connect to the bigger picture of why you do what you do, and where you are ultimately going. You’ll be more focused on what matters the most as a result, and your productivity will skyrocket.