Skip to content

Leading Through Difficult Times


It’s not easy being a leader today.

It could be argued that it’s never easy to be a leader, but it remains essential regardless – and part of what makes one is the acceptance of that knowledge.

I learned much of what I know about leadership from my mother. She passed away a little over eight years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. She was a powerful woman with that rare ability to be both emotionally available to us and able and willing to kick our butts when we needed it. She held many positions of leadership in her life but the most important and impactful, as far as I can tell, was the position of mother.

She was also a respected lawyer from the late ‘50s until her retirement in 2007. I have many of her life’s artifacts, and one of my favorites is the “reserved parking” sign labeled with her maiden name; she was the first female lawyer to get such a spot in her firm. It was one of the largest law firms on Long Island at the time.

Needless to say, my mother knew how to navigate difficult times. The loss of her father when she entered law school found my mother supporting a household of her mother and her little sister, 17 years younger; not once did she complain about her circumstances or situations. She had gratitude for what she had and acceptance for what she didn’t. She was, in hindsight, the first stoic I ever knew … allowing emotions to exist but not control.

It was how she lived, and how she led.

I have been reading and studying Stoicism as an intentional pursuit for 2020. While I cannot do the topic justice (one of the 4 Cardinal Virtues of Stoics) I would like to share a few quotes from Stoic leaders and founders that might serve contemporary leaders in difficult times:


“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own” — Epictetus


“‘If you seek tranquility, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.24


“Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line … So it is for us—each person’s life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded … You have been stationed in a key post, not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.31–36


“And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31

These 4 Cardinal Virtues have led various ancient leaders through some of the hardest times. Consider the Antonine Plague of 165CE, a global pandemic with a mortality rate of 2-3 percent. It began with flu-like symptoms and escalated quickly. Millions of people were infected, and between 10 and 18 million people died. This plague spanned the entire region led by Marcus Aurelius and it is his quote about Temperance and Justice shared above.

My mother was a stoic leader whose life spanned almost 80 years through difficult and less difficult times. I know that if she were here today, she would remind me to trade my current fear for courage, and to seek those around me who need my love, support and presence. She would encourage me to lead with the knowledge that it is not always easy … but it is always necessary.

How are you leading through these difficult times? Our coaches at Emergent have a wealth of short- and long-term solutions and training to keep your leadership skills – or to get them back – on track. Email me at for more information, advice and/or support.

Posted in


  1. Lynn Sturtz on April 24, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Nice article Bill……it really resonated with me. 🙂

  2. Dan Andress on April 25, 2020 at 2:13 am

    Bill, thanks very much for sharing. Stoicism is an appealing pursuit, and my interest in it is growing. The temperance virtue first impacted me a few years ago when I read ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown. I’ve slowly been transitioning to weniger aber besser – less but better. Currently I’m making my way through Ryan Holiday’s excellent ‘Stillness Is The Key,’ and it’s making me look very hard at my motivations, thoughts and actions. I’d highly recommend both titles if you haven’t read them. Thank you again for this article – very thought provoking.

  3. Bernadette Barber on April 25, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Bill – great article . These concepts are so poignant currently – allowing emotions to exist but not control . We all know that we will be changed by this pandemic experience and I think these cardinal virtues are very compelling guidance ….especially for me is the greater awarenes I have experienced under the virtue of temperance – most of what we say and do is not essential ! Greater tranquility is felt by not being driven to try to do everything and the greater awareness of being able to decipher what is essential .

    Thanks for sharing !

Leave a Comment