Can you be a Stoic manager?

Matthew Crawford writes in his book, Shopcraft as Soulcraft, that the corporate manager is highly dependent on managing perceptions to be successful. It’s a relationship game

As a result, managers have to spend a good part of the day “managing what other people think of them.” With a sense of being on probation that never ends, managers feel “constantly vulnerable and anxious, acutely aware of the likelihood at any time of an organizational upheaval which could overturn their plans and possibly damage their careers fatally,” as Craig Calhoun writes in his review of Jackall’s book. It is a “prospect of more or less arbitrary disaster.”

Stoicism and most philosophies emphasize not worrying about what other think of you, unless it is an indicator that you are acting unjustly or against nature.

So what’s a poor aspiring manger to do?

In theory, you should play the game in a detached way, do what is necessary to be successful at your job while not letting your mind be consumed by it.

On the other hand, you have to decide whether this game worth playing at all

What good is it doing you or anyone, besides meeting your immediate needs (which may be a good reason for doing it)

I don’t have any easy answers for you. I believe some roles in some jobs at some companies are not worth doing. Some for moral reasons (don’t work at a tobacco company) and some because they’re just pointless or dumb, and are corrosive to the soul.

But to the extent that your work is not obviously harmful or totally devoid of value to the world, it’s worth learning to perform it Stoically. Act detached but justly.

Marcus Aurelius, who had the non-stupid job of leading and managing the Roman Empire, counseled 

If an action or utterance is appropriate, then it’s appropriate for you. Don’t be put off by other people’s comments and criticism. If it’s right to say or do it, then it’s the right thing for you to do or say. The others obey their own lead, follow their own impulses. Don’t be distracted. Keep walking. Follow your own nature, and follow Nature—along the road they share.

Do the right thing, the non-stupid things, and be ready to accept the consequences. That might mean you get ostracized or even fired. Or it might mean you get more respect for doing so.

It’s not easy. But incorporating these ancient wisdom principles is not supposed to be easy and is the task of a lifetime. If you failed to act justly or according to principles you believe in, take note and make a better decision the next time.