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The Four Stoic Virtues of Leadership

By September 3, 2021 September 11th, 2021 One Comment

In today’s solocast, Commander Divine explains leadership as it is through the lens of the four Stoic virtues: courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance.

Hear how:

  • When cultivating courage, action eliminates doubt—develop an offensive mindset
  • Opening up the wisdom of our heart and recognizing the vastness of the universe helps us tame our ego—so it knows its place and can choose the positive course
  • Doing the right thing and facing injustice requires risk: ”Silence is violence”
  • Restraining from worldly desires gives you the discipline to master yourself and fulfill your purpose

Listen to this episode to hear how an ancient philosophy can help us in the present day of VUCA.


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Transcript

Hi, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining me. Appreciate your time and your attention today.

If you like this podcast, please refer to a friend and it’s helpful if you go rate it. We have over a thousand five-star reviews on apple and we’re also now available on amazon so you can rate it there, if you listen to it there.

Today, I have a solo podcast and I wanted to talk about leadership through the lens of the four stoic virtues – those virtues are courage, wisdom, justice and temperance. I’ll probably spend the most time on courage – that’s a topic near and dear to my heart, and I think courage kind of precedes or underlies wisdom and justice and temperance…

You could also say that wisdom is the meta-principle, really. It takes wisdom to develop courage or to lead with courage and to have temperance. And to be the one responsible for making justice a reality.

At any rate, it’s fun to talk about leadership in these contexts. Leadership is so much about character – all these fancy leadership theories ultimately fail in the face of a character deficit. And yet, how does one forge a character of a good leader – an authentic leader… someone who is courageous and wise and seeks justice and is temperate in their behavior.

Well, I love stoic philosophy, because they have an answer for that, right? The answer is character. It’s cultivated through our daily actions through discipline, through self-awareness, through restraint and through finding a balance between rashness and courage or boldness.

So let’s start with courage. I wrote a book last year called “Staring Down the Wolf” and the whole nature of this book was to face your fears. And I wasn’t really talking about the fears that you have of existential issues such as jumping out of an airplane… those are very real, raw fear – because we fear the loss of this life, of this body, of our loved ones…

It’s really the more subtle fears that lead to character flaws that I was talking about. And so in this case fear could be also equated with a shadow that leads to a negative projection or an unwillingness to see someone else’s perspective as being equally as valid as yours. So that’s a bias.

So any opinion or position that you have is based upon an unwritten rule or belief or story that you’ve been fed, or you’ve adopted yourself. Maybe it served you very well, obviously it has because you selected it, and you’ve habituated it.

But if it leads to some sort of negative projection or a sense of righteousness – “I’m right and they’re wrong,” or any type of separation, where you’re excluding somebody – then that’s based upon an underlying fear, and that fear then leads to the bias or the blockage of whatever it is that you are withholding from yourself or you’re denying in yourself.

This is basic shadow therapy type stuff… so in order to develop courage – like, courage can’t exist in the face of fear, because fear will always override courage. The type of fear I’m talking about.

So the first step to developing courageous leadership is to stare down our fear wolf and ask ourselves what are my biases and blockages? And what are the stories that I’ve been telling myself that are incomplete or keep me from being less whole, less integrated and less able to have an open heart toward the way other people see things?

So in that regard courage is a choice. The choice is first to overcome our biases – our bias toward inaction, perhaps our bias toward our beliefs, our bias towards certain behaviors… reactionary conditioning to stare those down and to feed courage instead.

Of course, this does take restraint which is where temperance comes in. Because in this regard in order to stare down a fear-based reactionary pattern we’ve got to pause and interdict whatever conditioned response is normally going to come out of us.

For instance, the desire to lash back at an injustice or some perceived insult. And you immediately want to lash back with a sharp tongue, or even a fist maybe in a more extreme example.

And we see this at a cultural level… like it was largely seen as appropriate for us to lash back after 9/11. And yet, when you can look at it from a wiser perspective, we completely played into the hands of bin laden and al-Qaeda. That’s exactly what they wanted us to do.

So it wasn’t exactly a wise reaction. And perhaps, in retrospect, you can see that pausing and breathing into it and maybe thinking through it and saying, “well, maybe we can use covert operations and strategic initiatives to really route them out, as opposed to just lashing back.”

But we’re trained in our society – we have this belief that an eye for an eye is appropriate. And that’s ultimately not the highest level of thinking on this.

It doesn’t take courage to lash back. It takes courage to restrain yourself in the right circumstances – so courage is a choice. There’s many aspects to courage. I probably don’t have time to go into too many, but there’s a few I’d like to discuss…

One is it takes courage to know when to quit something. And often it can be because there’s an injustice. It can also be because your calling is calling you – a good example for me is when I quit active duty Navy SEALs, because I felt that my mission was pulling me more toward teaching and leadership.

And also, I felt this sense that I couldn’t grow beyond the level of development of the institution that I was in. And I was in what I call a second plateau institution. That’s a bureaucracy – the military organization is our bureaucracy…

It’s very difficult if you’re growing into a more expansive stage of consciousness to evolve in an institution like that. So you kind of get stuck – and I felt stuck.

So it took some courage to quit, because I love my job, I love my teammates… a big part of me wanted to go on and serve at SEAL team six or the DEVGRU tier one operation. And have those experiences.

But it wasn’t my calling – not in this lifetime – so it’s important to have the courage to quit something if it’s not in alignment with your calling anymore. So you can set forth toward that calling even though it’s a blank slate and you don’t know what’s next.

It’s scary. It’s easier to stay with a certain thing… most of the people that I work with – they’re trying to change, because they don’t like something…

Well I changed in spite of really liking that job, but I just knew inside – my internal guidance system was telling me… my calling was calling me forth to grow beyond that organization and to do something slightly different. That was initially to teach other warriors some of the things that I had learned along the way.

Which brings me to the next point around courage and that’s the saying that we use in SEALFIT that “doubt is eliminated through action.” So once you make a decision to move, then you start to get some clarity, some perspective. It’s like my friend Jason Redman says, “you get off the x.”

So quitting is like getting off the x… life ambushes, so you get off the x, so you don’t keep getting pummeled.

But then all of a sudden, you’re standing in a different spot and so you can see things from a different perspective. You’ve taken action and once you take action then you get some feedback, and you activate the loop. You observe what’s happening. You orient yourself to this new reality. You make another decision and then you act on it.

And in this way, you move forward one action at a time. And every time you take that action doubt is eliminated, until you get back to clarity. So most people don’t have the courage to choose even the first action because they can’t imagine stepping into the void of unknowingness… lack of clarity.

This is one of the most important skills for leaders today is to recognize that doubts are limited by action. You move forward, but you don’t go… again, we’ve talked about this before. You don’t go with a perfect plan.

You don’t go with a million person army amassed at the border of your company, without some level of certainty that’s the right path to take.

And so you take these little steps. Micro-steps. Minimum viable product type steps. But you take action, and you get feedback. And you take action, you get your feedback. And you fast twitch iterate your way to success and away from uncertainty. Into clarity.

Be Offensive

15:35

Another thing I learned in the SEALs was that it’s very difficult to be courageous when you’re on defense, or when you’re thinking defensively. Or when you’re always covering your ass, or you’re always looking behind you.

That means you’re looking at how others are perceiving you. This is the politician – how your actions are going to upset one group of people who might have to support you in the future, and so you always have this timidity or this watered-down approach. Or you take actions to satisfy a group of people which are flat out wrong.

We’ll talk more about that in the section on justice in the context of Afghanistan… so offensive mindset. When I went through self-defense training starting at buds, and then when I was at SEAL team three, the special aggressive reactionary system or S.C.A.R.S., created by a guy named Jerry Peterson.

It was a pretty intense 30 days of training – 10 hours of fighting a day and none of it was defensive. And so it helped us eradicate defensive thinking to include words that were defensive… when it came to fighting, we didn’t use words like “block” or “fall back,” right?

An outsider might have been looking at us and saying, “well, look at that movement looked like a block.” But in our minds, we were trying to shatter that person’s arm. So we weren’t bringing the energy of a block and furthermore we weren’t waiting for the strike when our arm went up to meet their arm. We weren’t waiting for the strike; we were attacking the arm.

So these are very different principles than what I had learned as a karate black belt of “defend, attack, defend, attack.” Well, every time I was defending, I was weakening myself. And I was giving the opponent an upper hand… an opportunity for an upper hand.

So it takes courage to get off the defensive and to get into the mode of attack, attack, attack – and I don’t mean that in a negative sense – like, attack your competition, I’m talking about.

In the leadership context, you relentlessly move forward, you are offensive – you don’t wait to see what your competition is doing, you don’t wait to see how the market’s going to always react, you move, move, move, move – and you allow the feedback to roll in as you’re moving. So you become a moving, learning machine with an offensive mindset.

I also learned that with this approach you might lose or fail 49% of the time or even 50% of the time, but it doesn’t mean that you go nowhere, because those 50 percent of… failure has an equal silver lining of a lesson embedded in it, and so to learn to find victory where it’s at.

And even if something is a complete catastrophe from the perspective of mission, what we wanted to accomplish there is a seed of equal value. And that’s the lesson. What do we learn and simultaneously when things go bad the leader needs to own his shit and be responsible for finding the victory where it’s at.

So, what that looks like a freaking disaster I owned because it was my idea, my mission – but look at what we learned. And “how can we use this to our advantage? What new techniques or tactics or sops can we develop from this? How does it inform some of our other initiatives? How does it inform our overall strategy?”

Find the silver lining own your shit and then give credit to the team for the success of that failure…

I love that. All right, so you got to face your fears – courage of choice… sometimes you got to know when to quit, and that’s when your calling is calling you action. Eliminate doubt, develop an offensive mindset, own your shit and give credit to the team…

And one last point is fortune favors the bold. Like, that is a statement that has been echoed throughout history and what I would say to kind of add to that is “fortune favors the prepared.” Not necessarily just the bold.

It’s a lot easier to be bold if you’re prepared. This is why I’m such a fan of the Spartans version of stoicism, as they were relentless in their preparation. And with navy SEALs and my SEALFIT training we’re relentless in our preparation. We suffer today so we don’t have to suffer as much tomorrow. We work hard to master our skills every day so that when we’re under extreme pressure and the risk is really high those skills are there for us and we have confidence. So fortune favors the prepared.

All right, moving on with the rest of these… I’m going to reference some other people besides myself – I’m tired of talking about myself here and besides others are a lot more wise and temperate and inclined toward justice than I am probably.

So let’s talk about wisdom. The second… well, I don’t think these virtues have any order, but this is what I’m going to talk about… there’s three points that I want to talk about with wisdom – one is inclusiveness, second is perspective, and the third is self-awareness or self-study.

So when I think of inclusiveness – we don’t have a very inclusive world, right? We are operating on ego and ethnocentric levels as a world.

But the wisest individual that I’ve ever studied or come to know is Jesus. And Jesus was born a Jew, but he was a man of the world – obviously he saw the goodness in everyone. He was utterly inclusive and then became very critical of the legalistic pharisee-type of religion that he saw in his day and age.

And he was very critical of that, and he got killed for it. But the point here is you could say, “well, he wasn’t very wise, because he got killed by trying to be inclusive.” But he was taking a stand, which took a lot of courage. You can see how that wisdom and courage are closely related.

Extreme courage for him to take the stand that he did. To basically treat the leper the same as the king or the emperor, and to suggest that everyone has equal value. Well, I think it’s time in our society that all leaders – whether you’re running a small non-profit or government beside the United States – become more inclusive.

And so we can take a cue from Jesus, or any of the great philosophers and spiritual leaders throughout history. It doesn’t mean we have to like everyone we include, and it doesn’t mean we have to or that we won’t defend against evil people or transgressions.

It just means that we lead with the hand and not the fist. We’re inclusive.

The second aspect of wisdom I want to talk about is perspective. One of my teachers – and I think he has made such a huge contribution to philosophy – is the American philosopher Ken Wilber. So, Ken Wilber really taught me about how to take perspective not only on your own life and how it unfolds both internally and externally, meaning subjectively and objectively – but also how to include perspectives as others and he taught me to recognize that every individual has a different set of internal stories and internal structure. And they can be kind of mapped along a developmental scale or a model.

And that both organizations and cultures also have these kind of reality maps. And it’s extraordinarily useful as a leader – or anyone. Whether you think of yourself a leader or not… if you don’t, then I encourage you to reconsider, because everyone’s a leader first of themselves and then someone’s going to follow you whether it’s your kid or a bigger team.

So everyone’s a leader. So let’s just assume you’re a leader – it’s very helpful for you to be able to have the perspective of knowing where someone else is coming from. It’s like the late Stephen Covey said, “if you can take the perspective of another, seek first to understand.”

And then to be understood, instead of just projecting your views, your opinion on everyone and that comes off as righteousness or protecting your status quo, your beliefs, your way of being…

And that projection ends up denigrating others, because you think you’re right and they’re wrong. When you’re just different.

Now we could make the argument that a culture that is world-centric and utterly inclusive has a higher value than one that is – let’s say – first plateau and rutted in extreme islamophobia or the opposite -Islamic jihadism like what we see with the Taliban. Well, of course, the jury’s out about how they either step up or fall back to their old extreme positions.

But you could make that argument that higher order consciousness is better. But Jesus wouldn’t say that we are better in the eyes of God than them, but there is this rationale that at a universal value level higher order consciousness is better for humanity.

And so, I do think that there is a day where we might be able to have a different approach to bringing the rest of the world up to the world-centric, inclusive level of cooperation and universal care and compassion where we are all one human race fighting for a common good.

As opposed to fighting each other, based upon our perceived differences. But obviously the approach that we’ve tried in Afghanistan, where we imposed our will and tried to create a western-style government-slash-culture… it wasn’t working.

And it didn’t work, because we lacked perspective. We were trying to impose a western culture on a culture that wasn’t ready for it and one and didn’t necessarily want it. Now having said that, there’s extreme positive that came out of that, because we have a whole generation of women and girls who experienced some form of freedom. And people who were really inspired and got educated and whatnot.

And so those are the kernels of goodness that’ll come out of that mission. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

The last for wisdom is they want to talk about is self-awareness and self-study. Self-awareness and self-study helps us really understand who we are. And what our place in the world is.

And so it leads to humility, and humility is one of the most important characteristics of a great leader. And it may be sorely lacking in our world today.

So, self-study is the daily introspective work of asking good questions and reflecting upon how things are going with the way that you’re showing up with people, and how your words land. You take responsibility for what you say, as well as for how your words land. And you watch how people react to you and you reflect upon that. That’s self-awareness.

It’s also studying your mind. This is the whole starting point for Unbeatable Mind – our training is to study your mind – how does your mind work? How do you integrate contextual thinking with linear thinking, so that you can have greater perspective and more awareness when you’re actually thinking, planning, talking, strategizing, etc.? How do you open up to the wisdom of your heart and your intuitive brain – your belly-brain – so that all comes through?

Self-awareness leads you to recognize that you’re capable of 20 times more than you think you are. So that’s amazing.

But also there’s the sameness that runs through all of us – this kind of goes back to what I was talking about a moment ago – and then you also recognize the vastness of the universe, of the galaxy, of the cosmos and how in spite of your intense potential, how infinitesimally small we actually are.

And that really helps us tame our ego. And the tamed ego is simply a personality that knows its place. And can always choose the positive course, the inclusive course, the course that has greater care and compassion and inclusiveness…

And I learned this through yoga, but in particular Paramahansa Yogananda – when I heard that the only book that Steve Jobs carried on his first iPad was Yogananda’s “Autobiography of A Yogi” – and that was the first book on yoga that I read back in 1999, and it really opened up to me what yoga truly was -beyond some of the hot yoga and ashtanga yoga that I had participated in. Which is the stretchy/bendy/ athletic yoga.

This is true yoga and true yoga taught me about self-awareness. Yoga is the oldest science of mental development, thousands of years old. And it’s powerful.

So that’s wisdom – wisdom of Jesus to be more inclusive, wisdom of Wilber to be able to take the perspective – and even see the perspective of other peoples, as they see you. So that you can come to greater perspectives or win-win solutions.

And the wisdom of developing self-awareness through self-study and knowing your place in the world. That I had learned from Yogananda.

Justice

34:43

All right. Let’s move on to justice. There’s a lot of talk about justice these days and equality and it’s all really important… justice to me is doing the right thing. This is another way that I’ve seen leadership differentiated from management – leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right or efficiently.

So, leaders need to always think about what’s the right thing now. This kind of goes back to courage – this is how these are all related – it takes great courage to do the right thing. If there’s risk – and often there is risk – risk to your reputation, risk to – if you’re a politician – to your fundraising efforts. Risk if you’re CEO of failure or of being seen as weak…

Always risk if you’re going to do the right thing, but the stoic principle of justice says that we must do the right thing. That statement – “silence is violence” – when I first heard that I was like, “ouch. That’s interesting.”

So let’s talk about both these – so that’s the second point – justice requires risk to do the right thing requires risk and if you don’t risk – if you remain silent – then that could be perceived as a lost opportunity to do the right thing. And we see that every day.

When I come upon like an accident or something like that – and this has happened a few times – and I pull over to do something about it, I’m not always the first one there and the other people there are like got their cameras out and they’re taking pictures or videos and they’re not doing anything. Now I understand, maybe they’re not trained…

But wow, they’re not doing the right thing.

Now, to be fair, one of them probably is called 911… that’s great, so that’s the right thing, but the rest of them are standing around videotaping it. And I get out and try to do the right thing.

And so think about that. There’s always risk, but just doing nothing even if you’re not trained is not the right thing. And this idea of silence is violence.

When I saw that Floyd video – the police kneeling on his neck and his partner is just sitting there and nobody… I can imagine like if I was there with some teammates, we would have – at great risk would have taken out that cop – like that was incredibly, insanely, violent thing to do.

And I know people in uniform are trying to keep the peace and everything, but that one that guy was distorted – he had some serious issues going on, let’s just say – and to sit around and to watch that happen – that’s not right.

And so then of course that triggered a massive reaction of the whole black population seeking justice. Rightfully.

But of course, maybe that’s where temperance comes in. Because that led to a lot of violence and a lot more deaths. And a lot of fractures in society.

And so there’s a wiser way to do justice than to lash back – to seek retribution…

Which brings me to my third point about justice – retribution isn’t justice, an eye for an eye is not justice. It feels good, but it’s not, because it’s negative and any time you meet force with force or negativity with negativity you end up with a worse situation. It compounds itself.

Forgiveness – on the other hand – is the absence of a projected violence, of the need for retribution, of the need to get back at someone, of the need to make someone else wrong so you feel right or vindicated. So, forgiveness doesn’t require any action… it just requires that you don’t take the negative action…

This is profound, right? So people thought forgiveness is something you have to do… no, forgiveness is not doing what your lower ego mind wants you to do. So, that requires restraint. So, by not doing the retribution and just letting it go and finding another way…

A good example is nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela could have tried to take retribution against those who incarcerated him. Tried to kill him.

And he didn’t. He let that go and allowed forgiveness to enter.

Contrast that with Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher who rightfully was abhorred with some of the atrocities he saw. But taking retribution was his answer, and that was not good. And it got him in a lot of trouble and put a huge stain upon the Navy SEALs.

All right, let’s move on to temperance. Okay, this one’s kind of fun. Temperance to me is restraint from overreactions. We’ve already talked about this a little bit in the context of justice. I love this quote from Marcus Aurelias – “perfection of character is to live each day as if it was your last – without frenzy without apathy, and without pretense.”

So, if today was your last would you go out and have a bacchanalian feast? If you lived yesterday like this and the day before, and the day before, the day before… if you live today just relax, you’d be restrained. You’d be asking yourself “what’s the most important thing I can do today? How can I fulfill my purpose even more today and how can I be open to love and be present with my family and my team today? And how can I be a wise individual willing to teach and lead by example today?”

“Because tomorrow I might not get another chance.” That’s great restraint. And another word for restraint is discipline.

So, that’s the second principle that I’ll talk about in temperance is discipline. I’m a big fan of discipline -discipline training like Navy SEALs are like the modern Spartans – we train ourselves every day in a disciplined way and we do it so that we can master ourselves in service to our mission and our teammates in that order.

So, discipline is literally to be a disciple to something bigger than yourself or higher than your egos, cravings and desires. And you set those aside and you train, and you balance, and you restrain from the desire to sleep in. You restrain from the desire to eat that extra slice of pizza or two. Or have that extra beer or two.

You restrain from that to maintain discipline so that you can train and be ready and be prepared. You master yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitionally and spiritually – as you understand that term – so that you can serve your mission that you’ve committed to that your calling has drawn you toward.

Now, if you don’t know your calling then part of your discipline is to do the work of self-awareness so that you can uncover that calling. You can hear it inside, you can open yourself up to your internal guidance system to be able to say, “oh yeah, my calling is pointing me over there.”

And this discipline, self-awareness practice leads you to your calling. And then you can take action to eliminate the doubt to fulfill that calling – by the way, this is the work of Unbeatable Mind mastering yourself in service to others.

And the final thing I’ll say with temperance is to balance the extremes. I love the Oscar Wilde quote “everything in moderation, including moderation.”

That’s great, because if you say, “I’ve got to do everything in moderation,” but then you get stuck in the limbo-land of not challenging yourself because you think it’s too extreme, or not doing that extra hard work out, or forgetting about your perfect zone diet and just blowing it out once in a while so that your body can have that kind of remembrance of what it’s like. And a shock to the system is actually good for you – then you actually weaken yourself.

So, he was absolutely right and I 100% believe that. I call that the 80/20 rule. Do everything as best you can – not perfect, but as best you can 80% of the time.

20% of the time, who gives a shit. Let it go. Have the extra drinks, have the extra food… it doesn’t matter. Because guess what? Tomorrow you’re going to get that smack in the face that says, “whoa, I shouldn’t have done that. But I’m happy I did. No regrets.”

And then you’re back on the disciplined path and your body will actually reward you for that. And furthermore, when we go through life with nothing to look forward to, with no rejoicing, with no play because we’re so disciplined then we can kind of get dull.

We get dull to ourselves, and we’re dull to other people… and that’s not temperance. Temperance is everything in moderation – including moderation. And the first part – “everything in moderation” – means just to limit the extreme swings. To try to find a narrow range where balance is really…

The counteracting of one swing to the other. One extreme to the other – “I didn’t get enough sleep, so maybe I have to get more sleep than normal the next day or on the weekend.” That’s kind of balancing.

But to go six months with three hours of sleep at night – it’s really hard to go back in the other direction because everything else gets out of balance. If you’re always doing extreme exercise, eventually you’re gonna break and then you can’t do any exercise. So that’s not good.

Those extremes are bad. You got to avoid them, but the narrow range with exercises do enough high intensity workouts every week – so say three maybe four – combined with enough active recovery and downtime, and yoga type training. Which would also be three or four.

And there may be one day where you just take a walk or go for a swim or do some stretching. That’s a nice balanced routine. So now you get these little tiny peaks and valleys instead of these wild swings.

So temperance – balancing these streams. Everything in moderation, including moderation. Disciplining yourself to master what’s important to you along the physical, mental, emotional, intuitional and your spiritual lines of development. So that you are ready to serve, and you can serve more boldly with courage, and you can serve with wisdom. And then you can also promote or be the facilitator of justice when justice needs to be done.

I hope this was interesting and helpful. I appreciate your support. Like I said, if you like this podcast, please refer a friend. Send them this podcast and then others… and help us rate it and stand by for more goodness.

This is Mark Divine and the Unbeatable Mind podcast.

Till next time, stay focused and be unbeatable.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Arthur De Borja says:

    GREETINGS Sir Mark ! Much thanks yet can’t thank you enough for having such a BIG Heart to be a BLESSING to countless people all over, in whatever corner of the globe this would reach . Most especially in these times that great struggles people would face in day to day life are for real and overwhelming…YOU are TRULY BLESSED and ABUNDANTLY BLESSED for your GREAT contribution to Mankind !!! SHALOM.

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