#LockdownLeadership Blog 8: ‘Stoic Wisdom’

The #LockdownLeadership series is a collection of anonymous blogs about leadership during these uncertain times. Share your leadership journeys: confessions… conversations… celebrations… challenges… Reflect on your moments of: courage… compassion… clarity… craziness… Email 500 words to hello@hannah-wilson.co.uk to be shared in this safe space. 

Stoic Wisdom for leaders in challenging times

Stoicism — an ancient school of philosophy famously practiced by the likes of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — is often considered to be a philosophy for the real world, and as we face the coronavirus pandemic, its teachings feel distinctly relevant for all leaders right now.

As leaders – worry only about the things under your control:

It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.


The weather, the way you were brought up by your parents, viral outbreaks, are all things that are out of your control. We need to save our focus and resources for what we can influence.

As leaders, we must accept misfortune and make the best of all situations in hand. Victor Frankl – author of Mans Search for Meaning and concentration camp survivor, once said:

When you are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

As a Head teacher, I have found returning to this question of control, a very useful exercise.  If you can focus on making clear what parts of your role are within your control and what parts are not, you may become less anxious and more self- aware.

Marcus Aurelius would say that one of things that we should all do is to practice misfortune. The Stoics called it ‘negative visualisation’. This does not mean that we should all go around being depressed all the time and thinking the worst but rather that we allow ourselves, fleetingly, to reflect on things that can go wrong as leaders – the obstacles and problems – in order to prepare and build inner resilience.

Understand that you are the sole source of your emotions:

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius

As leaders, It’s the stories that we tell ourselves about those events, that determine our outlook.  When we’re faced with difficult scenarios, we ought to remember the importance of choosing the narrative that is beneficial to us and consistent with the truth.

As leaders, keep your expectations reasonable:

 How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.

Marcus Aurelius

The great Stoics of the past believed it was absurd to be surprised by anything. Frustration is often the result of unreasonable expectations. It is unreasonable to expect that we will not face challenging parents, staff or children, dilemmas, problems and set – backs.

Be a Good person – be virtuous:

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. 

Marcus Aurelius

The greatest accomplishment for a Stoic, was living a virtuous life regardless of the circumstances. As leaders It is important to adhere to our values, even when life is most challenging. Try to be empathetic, reflective, courageous and calm. You may be blown off course by a gust of wind but is your intentions that matter more than the outcomes of your goals.

Be grateful:

Nothing is more honourable than a grateful heart.


As leaders, avoid focusing on the things you lack. Instead, be happy with your blessings. Be grateful for what you have, both as a leader and in your personal life.



Published by Ethical Leader

Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator, Coach, Speaker and Writer. Experience of teaching schools, initial teacher education, mentoring & coaching, diversity and equality. Passionate about integrity, ethics and values.

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