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These 7 Lessons From the Ancient Stoics are Relevant for Entrepreneurs Today

These seven lessons from Stoicism will no doubt bring positive change to your life

Thai Nguyen

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Cicero

Some of the greatest leaders in history were Stoics: Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius. It’s no surprise considering Stoicism’s emphasis on self-mastery. Success and leadership flows from the reflection in the mirror.

The key is found in responding, as opposed to reacting, to external circumstances. The Stoics taught that although we can’t control what happens to us in life, we can control our perception of it. That makes all the difference.

Responding requires being mindful, aware and in control, rather than under the control, of your emotions and thought process. We can choose to perceive events in a productive way, or a destructive way. Stoics chose to see the glass always half-full. They find the silver lining in every cloud.

Related: 5 Unforgettable Leadership Qualities for Successful Entrepreneurs

These seven lessons from Stoicism will no doubt bring positive change to your life:

1. Think about thinking

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius.

Only an attentive mind can filter and revoke unhealthy thoughts, and subsequently, unhealthy behaviours. Stoicism taught a clear distinction between your thoughts and behaviour. It’s that old adage, think before you act. The mindless person acts viscerally and regretfully.

The next time you’re confronted with a frustrating conversation or your schedule is suddenly derailed, pause for a moment to create a break to process what happened, then ask yourself: What’s the best way I can respond?

The simple act creates the self-reflection necessary put an end to impulsive, negative responses.

2. New day, new beginnings

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” – Seneca.

Stoics saw each day brimming with opportunities. Remember, it only takes a single event, a single conversation, to completely change the trajectory of your life.

An awful day doesn’t have to become an awful week. Failing to meet a deadline can spread to a rejected business proposal if the fire of frustration isn’t put out. The Stoics built walls of mental compartmentalisation when necessary. Little pieces of the big picture connect and affect one another. When a cancer of anger and negativity is identified, it needs to be cut out before it spreads.

A new day, a clean slate. Put a stop to the domino effect before your little errors turn into a major crises.

3. Purposed action

“If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favourable.” – Seneca.

The Stoic wakes up and knows exactly what they want from their day — a clear destination and clear goals. Starting your day with writing down daily goals creates a psychological pre-commitment and self-expectation that increases the likelihood of achievement.

Psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews‘ study took 267 participants and found those writing goals with specific weekly strategies had a 76 percent success rate compared with 43 percent for those who merely stated their goals.

Every action must connect with a destination. Otherwise, you can sail all day, and end up right where you started.

4. There’s a season

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” – Epictetus.

Ambitious people live ten years in the future. Patience isn’t our greatest virtue. Stoicism stressed living in accordance to our inner flow, and also to the external flow of life. Patience is not the enemy of productivity.

Constantly trying to find shortcuts will send you round in circles. Quality often gets sacrificed on the altar of rapid development. Excitement can cause ignorance toward necessary procedures.

Giving something an extra day can make a great deal of difference.

Related: To Be a Leader you Need To Be One of The Guys

5. You’re already there

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient. – Seneca.

We all believe achievement and success brings happiness but, surprisingly, the equation can be flipped – happiness brings success and achievement. Modern science has recently clued into what the Stoics knew for centuries.

Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor shared his research during a Ted Talk. Professionals from various careers who took part in a gratitude practice at the start of their day performed at a much better level than those who didn’t. Achor showed that starting with a positive mindset releases dopamine, which increases overall performance and happiness levels.

Increase your performance with positivity at the starting blocks rather than at the finish line.

6. Authenticity

“Were I a nightingale, I would act the part of a nightingale; were I a swan, the part of a swan.” – Epictetus.

It’s so important to have mentors and role-models. But emulation can easily turn into imitation, and all you produce is a second-rate product. Stoicism emphasised a harmony between acceptance and change, the perfect balance of fate and free will. It’s the wisdom to know when the leopard can’t change it’s spots, and when you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Practically, it means embracing your unchangeable quirks and leveraging your uniqueness. There will never be another Elvis. The iconic VW Beetle can’t be replaced. Figure out what your gifts and talents are, and exploit them. We often look to external sources for inspiration when the answer is within.

7. Make peace with death

“Rehearse death. To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Seneca.

It’s not something we like to talk about, but death is the one certainty in life. Confronting that reality is liberating. Whether we realise it or not,death anxiety is at the root of all our fears. Our fight/flight mechanism works to preserve life, to flee from death. But it often gets triggered long before death enters into the picture, crippling us from stepping outside our comfort zone to pursue passions and new creations.

Confronting and coming to peace with death diminishes that slavery to fear. Stoics stared death in the face and accepted it as a natural part of life. Becoming friends with the ‘monster’ defeats it.

Steve Jobs said it beautifully, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Related: How Google Turned Around Management Resistance

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Thai writes from the intersection of success, psychology, & spirituality, and invites readers to embrace a holistic lifestyle. Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, completed a BA in Humanities in Texas. Thai has been a 5-star chef, international kick boxer, now spiritual teacher & writer. He’s currently living in Cusco, Peru finishing his book on the power of stories in shaping our lives. You can follow his work at TheUtopianLife.com or connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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sticker-business

When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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director-refused

Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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