“I’m too soft with my employees,” a friend announced. “I need to be cold, clinical, and emotionless. I need to quit worrying about whether people like me. I need to be more of a jerk.”
She paused, and then nodded decisively. “I need to be a Stoic,” she proclaimed.
While the definition of “stoic” is “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining,” embracing Stoicism (with a capital “S”) means something else entirely.
In simple terms, Stoicism has nothing to do with being stone-faced and emotionless. Stoicism is a practical philosophy that says while you will never control everything that happens, you can always control how you respond.
If you’re a Stoic, you can still experience and fully embrace your emotions; you just try not to let your emotions control your actions, especially in a harmful or negative way. Being a Stoic means deciding the kind of person you wish to be, and then, no matter what happens to or around you, being that kind of person.
Say my friend’s goal as a leader is to be understanding and empathetic. While she probably needs to put stricter rules and guidelines in place — since there’s nothing wrong with having high standards — she can still be the kind of person she wishes to be.
Then, if one of her employees consistently fails to meet performance standards, she needs to process the situation in a way that allows her to remain an understanding and empathetic person. Even if she needs to fire that individual, still: It’s possible to be understanding and empathetic and treat people with respect and dignity even as you let them go. (In fact, you should do everything possible to allow the person to maintain as much self-respect and dignity as possible.)
If she’s done her best to train and support and mentor the employee, ultimately she can’t control that person’s performance.
But she can control how she responds to the situation.
The Four Virtues of Stoicism Make You More Likable
Stoics believe in four basic virtues:
Wisdom: Making informed decisions. Making logical decisions, not emotional ones. Exercising discretion. Being resourceful. Doing the right thing, even when the right thing is the hardest thing.
Courage: Persistence. Endurance. Industriousness. Confidence. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, or anxiety, or, on the flip side, desire. Courage is the ability to do the right thing in spite of fear, anxiety, or desire — to be the kind of person you want to be no matter what may come your way.
Moderation: Self-restraint. Self-discipline. Self-control. Humility. The ability to delay gratification and make choices that place long-term goals over short-term satisfaction.
Justice: Treating people fairly. Treating people equitably. Acting with integrity. Giving more than you take. As Epictetus said, “Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.”
Being stoic won’t make you likable; embracing the Stoic virtues will make you more likable. Most people want to work for a boss who makes informed, logical decisions — decisions that he or she can justify. Most people want to work for a boss who cares more about doing right than being right. Most people want to work for a boss who stays cool in a crisis.
And everyone wants to work for a boss who treats people fairly and equitably — and who gives more than he or she takes.
The same is true in a broader sense. Think of someone you like, respect, and admire. The words “cold,” or “clinical,” or “emotionless” don’t come to mind.
The people you like, respect, and admire remain positive in the face of adversity. They remain empathetic and thoughtful in the face of conflict. They’re humble in the face of incredible success. They help other people because seeing other people succeed makes them happy.
Want to be more likable? Don’t be a stoic.
And in the process, you’ll also be more successful: Stoics know what kind of person they want to be, and make decisions that help them become that kind of person.
Regardless of what comes their way.
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