Marcus Aurelius' 10 Rules

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled from 161 to 180 A.D. and maintained the reputation for being the ideal wise leader whom Plato called the "philosopher king."

Marcus Aurelius' 10 Rules

His book Meditations has inspired leaders for centuries because of its timeless wisdom about human behavior.

It's a collection of personal writings from the chaotic last decade of his life. This turmoil inspired him to develop his interpretation of Stoic philosophy, which focused on accepting things out of one's control and maintaining mastery over one's emotions.

We've looked at a section from Book 11 in which Marcus writes reminders to himself on how to be a great leader. Using Gregory Hays' accessible translation of the ancient Greek (Marcus used the language of his philosophical heroes), we've broken down his 10 points into further simplified language, contextualized by the rest of Marcus' ideology.

Here are 10 things every great leader should know:

1. Understand that people exist to help one another.

Marcus believed that even though there will always be people who live selfishly and those who want to destroy others, humanity was meant to live in harmony. "That we came into the world for the sake of one another," he writes.

And within society, leaders such as himself emerge. And it is their duty to be the guardian of their followers.

2. Be mindful of others' humanity.

Remember that every one of your followers, superiors, and enemies are human beings who eat and sleep. It is easy to belittle or magnify the importance of others when you are deciding between them.

Remember that every person has dignity and pride.

3. Realize that many mistakes, even egregious ones, result from ignorance.

When a person makes a decision that offends you, Marcus writes, first consider whether they were "right to do this" in the sense that they are acting morally acceptable, even if it is against your self-interest. In that case, do not spend energy complaining about it.

If, however, they are behaving in a reprehensible way, consider their actions to be based on ignorance. For this reason, many of these offenders "resent being called unjust, or arrogant, or greedy," Marcus writes. When dealing with your followers, punishment or chastisement should thus be done in an educational way.

4. Do not overly exalt yourself.

Leaders should take their leadership roles seriously, but not in a way that makes them feel godlike.

Remember, "you've made enough mistakes yourself," Marcus writes. "You're just like them." And if you've managed to avoid some of the mistakes your followers make, then recognize that you have the potential to falter and do even worse.

5. Avoid quick judgments of others' actions.

Sometimes what you initially perceive as your followers' or your competition's mistakes are more wise and deliberate than you think.

"A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people's actions with real understanding," Marcus says.

6. Maintain self-control.

While it is natural to react to an offense by losing your temper or even becoming irritated, it is in no way constructive. To maintain control over your emotions, Marcus writes, remember that life is short.

You can choose to spend your time and energy languishing over things that have already happened, or you can choose to be calm and address any problems that arise.

7. Recognize that others can hurt you only if you let them.

Think about a time when someone insulted you, for example. You decided to let their words hurt you when you could have instead pitied them for being ignorant or rude.

The only actions that should truly hurt you, Marcus writes, are things you do that are shameful since you are in control of your self-worth and values.

8. Know that pessimism can easily overtake you.

It is common to have strong emotional reactions to disasters, but behaving this way only keeps you from addressing the challenges that arise and fills you with powerful negative thoughts.

"How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them," Marcus says.

9. Practice kindness.

Sincere kindness is "invincible," Marcus writes, and more powerful than any negative transgression. A strong leader must set aside ego and base emotions and behave with compassion.

"What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight — if you get the chance — correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he's trying to do you harm," Marcus says.

10. Do not expect bad people to exempt you from their destructive ways.

While great leaders can do everything possible to behave constructively and compassionately, they must also understand that some find meaning in destroying others. Marcus writes it is not only foolish but "the act of a tyrant" to think that you can try to change these kinds of people or persuade them to treat you differently.