Seneca for the CEO Set

Seneca for the CEO Set

The year:1992

The place: Assumption College, Worcester, MA

The class: Comparative Literature

That is where my love for the classics first began. I can remember sitting in that room like it was yesterday. I had never had a proper introduction to the works of ancient Rome and Greece in high school, so it was up to college to stoke that fire. And it has burned brightly ever since. (OK that make have been a too cheesy a metaphor. Must be an undergrad flashback.) While I went on to become an English teacher, I try to bring in the classics when ever I can.

So it has been heartening to see one of my favorite Roman writers getting his due among the popular blogging set recently.

Seneca seems to be everywhere lately. I read about the value of being alone over at Brain Pickings. Someone tweeted out Tim Ferris’ 2009 posting of On The Shortness of Life, one of Lucius Seneca‘s most famous letters. Then I came across Shane Parrish’s take over at Farnam Street where he has had three different posts on the ancient philosopher since July.

So with all the recent love for the prolific statesman who died nearly 2,000 years ago, I thought I would share some of my own favorite selections. Much of Seneca’s works are particularly relevant to those who aspire to be leaders in the workplace, or the community at large. His advice is simple, timeless and true.

The following all come from Letters From a Stoic, a Penguin Classics edition that still sits on my shelf reminding me of college days gone by.

Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one. People learn as they teach.

Having a support network of mutually accountable peers is one key to future success. Following the advice to surround yourself with people whom you can teach, and in turn learn from, will allow you to grow as a leader. I know it has certainly helped my own career as a teacher and writer.

No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own.

In an era where managers all to often take the credit for work down by those they manage this short piece of advice is sorely needed. If you want those who work for you to feel empowered to take risks and help your department shine, then you need to be prepared to fade into the background and give credit where credit is due.

What is required is not a lot words, but effectual ones. 


As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. 

After recently reviewing Talk Like Ted, it seems clear that this is something we constantly need to be reminded of. We don’t need to have 60 minute meetings, and endless Power Point presentations don’t have to be the norm just because we’ve always worked that way. The saying, less is more, is a maxim for a reason.

So whether you are an up-and-coming MBA student, or you are a fire-tested CEO, reading a little bit of Seneca now and then is time well spent, and the easy-to-read translation from Penguin, Letters From a Stoic, is a great place to start.