Tag: Heraclitus

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders

How many of today’s problems are the result of leadership?

What’s lacking, the author of The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership argues, is the lack of real leadership.

Here the problem may lie with a lack of deeper, broader insights, the kind of insights that technical skill alone does not confer— the ability to see the big picture, to connect with members of the organization, to foster a meaningful and productive work environment, and to steer the corporate ship through the challenges of highly competitive markets and new technologies.

What is leadership?

The authors define the term “leadership” in a way that differentiates their “interpretation from the offhanded views that too often distort the word’s meaning.”

It is the assumption of the authors that leadership is an uncommon composite of skill, experience, and ripened personal perspectives. It is, of course, the last of those elements that sets the real leader apart from those who simply “run” organizations. Ripened personal perspectives are an essential ingredient in a leader’s efforts to develop and articulate a sound corporate vision. Real leaders, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, see things more rapidly than does the typical executive. At least in part, their insights are a reflection of an “inner” clarity that allows for fuller concentration on the challenges at hand.

This is why leadership cannot be “done by the numbers,” why those who have failed to comprehend the motivating subtleties in their own lives are unlikely to achieve the status of “leader.” Simply put, only those men and women who have cultivated a care fully conceived philosophy of life are ready and able to exhibit the kind of workplace mastery suggested by the term “leader.” Now for some, invoking the term “philosophy” in this context may seem strangely out of place. To one degree or another, we all have been conditioned to believe that philosophy is at best a kind of noble laziness, a speculative exercise devoid of concrete benefit. Yet it may be that many of the inefficiencies and failures that plague our managerial environments are ultimately related to an inadequate consideration of what philosophy has to offer.

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership

1. Know thyself. Understand your inner world, your bright and dark sides, your personal strengths and weakness. Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition necessary for real leadership.

2. Office shows the person. The assumption of authority brings out the leader’s inner world. It reveals whether the leader has undergone a process of honest self-discovery that allows for the productive application of power.

3. Nurture community in the workplace. Community development and positive sentiment are virtues leaders must nurture by providing the right support, guidance, and incentives.

4. Do not waste energy on things you cannot change. Do not waste resources and energies on things you cannot control, and therefore, cannot change.

5. Always embrace the truth. Effective leaders should always embrace the truth, always encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, be skeptical of flattering appraisals, and never let authority place a wedge between them and the truth.

6. Let competition reveal talent. Nurture an environment that can use the forces of competition constructively, create a platform that releases the ingenuity and creativity of your employees in pursuing corporate goals and objectives, identify subordinates who use competition as a constructive force, steer away from subordinates who use competition as a destructive force.

7. Live life by a higher code. Dedicate yourself to a higher standard of personal conduct; don’t harbor ill-will toward those who offend; be ready to assist those who are in need without asking something in return; remain calm in the face of crisis; dedicate yourself to principle without compromise; earn the trust, respect, and admiration of your subordinates through your character, not the authority conferred upon you by the corporate chart; turn authority into power.

8. Always evaluate information with a critical eye. Don’t rely upon old premises, assertions, and theories. Develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value, certify the credibility and usefulness of critical information, analyze the con text that produces critical information and the messengers who convey it, and never rush to judgments.

9. Never underestimate the power of personal integrity. Personal integrity is a critical asset for real leadership. Always set an honorable agenda, adhere to a code of professional conduct, never try to justify dishonesty and deceit, rather “fail with honor than win by cheating.”

10. Character is destiny. True leadership is ultimately traceable to factors of character and personal integrity; much of what is called “destiny” lies in our hands, not in mysterious forces beyond our control.

The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders is a worthy read for anyone looking to embark on a journey of critical self-examination. You’ll learn from the revered ancient thinkers like Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus, and Antisthenes.

The Stoic Reading List: Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and More

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

— Marcus Aurelius

You know the section of the book after the last chapter? The one that everyone ignores? That’s one of the first things I read as part of a systematic skimming, which allows me to get a feel for the author’s vocabulary, a sense of what the book is about, and references and sources. It’s also a good place to find new reading material.

In the back of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph I came across something I wish I had found a few years ago when I first started reading philosophy, a stoic reading list.

The Stoic Reading List

Stoicism is awesome because the original, primary texts are often easier to read than whatever has been put out since. This is why we’ve read the same books for thousands of years.

The Big Three.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

I loved this book. I had read it before but it wasn’t the Hays translation, which made a world of difference for me.

There is one translation of Marcus Aurelius to read and that is Gregory Hays’s amazing edition for the Modern Library. Everything else falls sadly short. His version is completely devoid of any “thou’s” “arts” “shalls.” It’s beautiful and haunting. I’ve recommended this book to literally thousands of people at this point. Buy it. Change your life.

2. Letters of a Stoic by Seneca (see also: On the Shortness of Life).

This is one of the 5 books I recommend everyone read before their 30th birthday.

Seneca or Marcus are the best places to start if you’re looking to explore Stoicism. Seneca seems like he would have been a fun guy to know—which is unusual for a Stoic. I suggest starting with On the Shortness of Life (a collection of short essays) and then move to his book of letters (which are really more like essays than true correspondence).

3. Discourses by Epictetus.

Of the big three, Epictetus is the most preachy and least fun to read. But he will also from time to time express something so clearly and profoundly that it will shake you to your core.

More Books

Holiday points us to some other great authors too, who are in line with some stoic thinking.

To which, you can add:

Selected Articles and online resources:

Heraclitus’s Fragments: Ancient Wisdom for a Changing World

“Many fail to grasp what they have seen,
and cannot judge what they have learned,
although they tell themselves they know.”
— Heraclitus


As with Baltasar Gracián and The Art of Worldly Wisdom, the insights found in Heraclitus‘s Fragments are strikingly modern.

The overarching message of his collection is that all things change; all things flow.

The body of work attributed to him consists in a collection of incendiary sparks that scholarship calls “fragments,” as if to say the work is incomplete only shards of a lost whole. But scholarship misses the fact that the style is the message. The snapshot, the aperçu, reveals things as they are: “The eye, the ear, the mind in action, these I value” (13). To speculate about the lost book distracts from the power of the fragments and their message: all things change, all things flow. The world is revealed only in quick glances.

“Heraclitus,” writes James Hillman in the foreword, “has moved philosophers from Plato through Nietzsche, Whitehead, Heidegger, and Jung …”

Heraclitus believed that energy is the essence of matter. Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way. In ancient Greek he wrote:

All things change to fire,
and fire exhausted
falls back into things.

Einstein, of course, agreed.

What do we know about Heraclitus?

Heir to the throne in Ephesus, one of the world’s richest and most powerful cities, Heraclitus gave up the kingdom and chose, instead of the trappings of power, to seek the Word of wisdom. His writings survived the Persian empire, dominant in his time, and then the Greek, and Roman. For hundreds of years, great writers, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, and others, quoted him with respect. Then, his book, with thousands of the finest works of that world, disappeared forever. So all we are left with are his fragments.

“To be evenminded is the greatest virtue,” Heraclitus persuades us. “Wisdom is to speak the truth and act in keeping with its nature.”

There is hardly a page in this brief book that I haven’t marked or flagged.

Those unmindful when they hear,
for all they make of their intelligence,
may be regarded as the walking dead.

furthering this…

Many fail to grasp what they have seen,
and cannot judge what they have learned,
although they tell themselves they know.

The circle of life.

Air dies giving birth
to fire. Fire dies
giving birth to air. Water,
thus, is born of dying
earth, and earth of water.

The world is constantly changing.

The river
where you set
your foot just now
is gone—
those waters
giving way to this,
now this.

Or as he put it in his most famous fragment

You cannot step in the same river twice.

The universe operates in a series of tensions

The cosmos works
by harmony of tensions,
like the lyre and bow.

On acquiring wisdom, he writes

Applicants for wisdom,
do what I have done:
inquire within.

and perhaps foretelling the direction of the word, he offered this nugget:

Although we need the Word
to keep things known in the common,
people still treat specialists
as if their nonsense
were a form of wisdom.

He followed that up with “Fools seek counsel from the ones they doubt.”

On having what we want, he notes the delicate balance between deprivation and satisfaction.

Always having what we want
may not be the best good fortune.
Health seems sweetest
after sickness, food
in hunger, goodness
in the wake of evil, and at the end
of daylong labor sleep.

On stupidity, he offers some advice: keep your mouth shut.

Stupidity is better
kept a secret
than displayed.

You can spend an hour reading Fragments and a lifetime thinking about it.