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Marcus Aurelius and Leadership Insights - 1

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

As we examine texts both contemporary and ancient, we observe that timeless principles for leadership, management, business, human interactions, essentially remain the same.

For instance, This week, we bring you Book One in Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, which has some remarkable insights about what made him the leader that he was.

The book is extremely insightful, very profound and there is no way to summarize the insights in a single article. Hence, in this piece, let’s see some of the key leadership takeaways.

1. A leader is a person of character. What defines this character may be subjective, but there is always a specific inner compass that all great leaders have. What your inner compass is like, is unique to each person, but to be a great leader, this compass must be present.

2. Great leadership is not about taking sides. “From my governor, to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partisan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights,” also indicates that a great leader will usually identify his biases, even the not so obvious ones and would be dispassionate about who wins and who loses.

3. While a great leader doesn’t get into petty arguments, or gets affected by criticism, they are also capable of being heavy-handed if needed. They do not prefer either gentleness, or authority. Their focus is on productive communication and action and not on meddling with others’ affairs.

4.Great leadership is about action and not just idle talk. When Marcus Aurelius talks about learning to endure labour, to work with his own hands and to want little, he’s talking about the ability of a leader to get their own hands dirty.

5. A leader spends liberally on training, development and learning. The sooner and the more that can be spent on it, the better it is. The question to ask, in contemporary times however is, whether we want our teams to undergo informational learning, or to experience transformational learning.

6. A great leader is not easily distracted. Neither extreme passion, nor trifling; upset, distract or affect them. Instead, they passionately focus on acquainting themselves with different schools of philosophy; encouraging freedom of speech; practicing fairness and simplicity in their life; and leading by example.

7. Great leadership is not about showing off oratory skills, benevolence, or intelligence. Instead it is about doing things in a calm, subtle, tranquil and confident manner. Simple examples of what clothes to wear, how to behave and what to speak and what not to speak, are used by Marcus Aurelius; to demonstrate the lessons he learnt from his family, teachers and peers.

8. Freedom of will and an undeviating steadiness of purpose is what makes one persevere in tough times. This unyielding spirit, ability to perform despite pressure and the ability to both ask and extend favours when earned, is another great leadership trait. Great leaders may ask for and extend support. However, they neither take it for granted, nor get obligated by it. Instead, they receive and extend it with simplicity of acceptance.

9. Great leaders understand the difference between compassion and passion. They possess a calm confidence about their ability to contribute to people, causes and the world. They can contribute via feedback without belittling anyone. Great leadership after all, is about empowering people and not making them small.

10. Most importantly, great leadership is about inner authenticity before anything else. It is about self-government and performing, rather than governing others and focussing on results. A great leader achieves results because he is committed but doesn’t get anxious about them because of attachment.

As we dive in the inquiry of the classic texts for contemporary insights, at BeOne, we are committed to bring to you value. If there’s a text you want us to analyse, or a specific question, thought or perspective you want us to respond to; we look forward to your mails at

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