Business and Philosophy: Applying Principles from the Stoics in the Workplace

Applying Principles from the Stoics to the Workplace
Applying ancient principles to today

The ancient philosophy of Stoicism might not seem like the most relevant source of inspiration for the modern-day business arena. However, if we applied some of its key principles, how would our workspace look different? What sorts of changes might we expect in company cultures and atmospheres? How would it change the way we interact with our managers, peers, and direct reports? We might find that there are some very useful lessons and realistic takeaways when it comes to application in the business setting.

Stoic Principles

First though, what exactly are the core beliefs of Stoicism? Nils and Jonas Salzgeber, authors and founders of the blog NJLifehacks.com, summarize it this way, “the Stoics differentiated between ‘good’, ‘bad’, and ‘indifferent’ things. The good things include the cardinal virtues wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline. The bad things include the opposites of these virtues, namely the four vices folly, injustice, cowardice, and indulgence.” A simpler definition from the Oxford Language Dictionary is “the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.” In a culture with so much division where emotions constantly run high, looking back to reason and the cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline is a breath of fresh air. So how can we apply this in the business world?

Give every day your best effort

We all want to rest our head on our pillows at night and believe we did enough. We want the satisfaction of a day full of accomplishment and productivity. Aytekin Tank put it this way in his article in Entrepreneur.com,  “An important tenet of Stoicism is not wasting time but living every day as though it could be your last. Being constantly mindful of our mortality might sound, well, morbid, but I see it as a positive motivator to live for the present and stop putting things off.” You will rarely regret the effort you put into a job well done.

Face your fears

Steady growth in the business world requires taking some risks, which will inevitably also lead to some issues that need resolving along the way. Especially if you are in upper management, the problems that arise and those risks you take can be very stressful. If you find that worry over these risks tends to consume your thoughts, try following this tenet of Stoicism instead: imagine some negative outcomes of the situation and think through how you could resolve them. You will end up either well prepared should any of them come to fruition, or you will be pleased and relieved if they don’t! This article by Daily Stoic says, “Stoics practice turning obstacles into opportunity. If you want to build creativity into your business use the exercise ‘turning the obstacle upside down’, every ‘bad’ becomes a new opportunity.”  Creating this strong mindset and facing your fears when it comes to your work will be extremely beneficial for both you and everyone you work with.

Keep it simple and stay focused

There are far too many little distractions vying for our attention on a daily basis in the workplace, hampering us from completing the most important tasks on our agenda. Prioritizing and self-discipline are two key factors when it comes to improving our productivity. Business Insider wrote this article about how the ancient philosophy of Marcus Aurelius has even helped billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in their business practices. The article specifically quotes Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, 2.5:

At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hands, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice—giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share. You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life—for, if you keep watch over these things, the gods won’t ask for you.

How much more motivated might you feel at work if you focus on mastering proper prioritizing and self-discipline? And how much more could be accomplished collectively if everyone in the office adopted this thinking?

Sometimes looking back to the wisdom of those who have gone before us is the best way to make significant forward strides in both our professional and personal lives. In his book Fortitude, Dan Crenshaw expounds upon the idea that Americans have become quick to emotional reaction and that responding with emotional rage is a character flaw. Or too often we find our calendars overwhelmed with commitments and our to-do lists overrun with distractions. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the principles of Stoicism and see how they might transform and improve our productivity and quality of life. Learning to take the emotion out of our daily tasks, staying focused on getting our job done, preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, and giving our very best effort can all seem overly simple for the demands of the 21st century. But if they lead us to a happier and more successful place in our work and our life, they are definitely worth considering. Discuss your current and future goals with Jeff at JL Nixon, Inc.