Philosophy is a universal concept that reaches across multiple sectors, with people finding their own unique way of putting it into practice. For Michael McGill, Stoicism has made him a more effective leader and IT professional.
It was great to chat with Michael about his Stoic experiences and the role that philosophy plays in leadership.
Thanks for getting involved with Stoic Athenaeum Michael. I’d read in another interview you did that your gateway into Stoicism was through Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way and that you didn’t think you could’ve picked up Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and got as much out of it without knowing a bit about philosophy first.
How do you feel learning about philosophy in a modern context can help in appreciating wisdom from the past?
Glad to be involved with Stoic Athenaeum, thank you for asking me to be a part.
I think it is a matter of “accessibility.” Let’s say you pick up an older translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It is going to be dense and filled with “thee’s” and “thou’s”. It’s tough for the modern reader to have the patience to plough through that.
A newer translation, like the Gregory Hays translation of Meditations, is much more “friendly” to the modern reader. It’s much easier to understand the lessons that Marcus is trying to convey.
Either way, I always recommend that someone new to Stoicism read about Stoicism before they read the actual works of the Stoics. Personally, I found it helpful for someone to “set the table” of Stoicism for me. It helped me get more out of the writings of the Stoic philosophers.
What are the main themes of Stoicism that resonate with you the most?
Understanding what we can and cannot control, and looking at life through that lens, is the most important theme of Stoicism.
We can eliminate so much stress, worry, and concern from our lives when we focus on what we can control and drop what we cannot control. Pre-Stoicism, I spent way too much time being stressed about things I ultimately had little to co control over. Stoicism has helped me to realise this.
Now when I start worrying about something my first question to myself is: “How much control do I have over this?” If the answer is “none” I drop it.
As a CIO in the IT sector, I imagine it’s crucial to use Stoicism to lead by example. What leadership benefits do you feel the philosophy can provide other business owners?
IT is tough. Servers crash. We are under attack. The code has bugs. It is easy to get stressed out. But as leaders, people look to us for how they should respond to a situation. If they see us panicking, they may panic as well.
It is critical as an IT leader to stay calm and objective when things go sideways. Stoicism helps you to stay calm during crisis, therefore making you a more effective leader.
How would you frame Stoicism through an IT context?
I like to look at Stoicism as an operating system for life. A computer operating system provides it with the instruction and framework to successfully perform its tasks. In the same way, Stoicism provides us with a framework for a successful life.
Also, Stoicism is a great way to debug our mental programming. There is a lot of incorrect thinking that is programmed into our minds by society, family, and school. Stoicism helps us remove the “bugs” and replace them with healthier thinking. It helps us reprogram selfishness into unselfishness. It helps us replace being over-emotional with objectivity. It helps us turn resistance into acceptance.
You’re known for creating your Stoic Thought of the Day on Twitter. What inspired you to start using Twitter as the outlet for this content?
I like to use what I call the “SPR” method with Stoicism: Study, Practice, Reflect.
Study is reading the works of the Stoics daily. Practice is practicing Stoicism in my daily life. And Reflect is my nightly journaling where I evaluate how effectively I practiced Stoicism that day.
My Stoic Thought of the Day is part of my Practice routine. It forces me to read a daily passage of Stoicism and think about what it means. I just decided to share that process on Twitter to help other people and to spread the word about Stoicism.
Do you have any criticisms of Stoicism or points that you disagree with?
There isn’t anything in Stoicism that I strongly disagree with. However, I would caution that it could potentially lead to complacency. It can be easy to say “I cannot control that” to things that we could potentially influence.
For example, we may look at a political situation and say that we cannot control it and choose not do anything about it. But, in reality, we can influence it by voting, or by taking action in our community.
Outside of Stoicism, what other types of philosophy are you engaged with?
Stoicism is the only school of philosophy I have read about or studied to any degree. But I have read other books that may loosely qualify as philosophy.
My favourite of these is the Bhagadvad Gita. It fits nicely with Stoicism. It talks a lot about the concept of detachment, or, acting without any expectation of the results of those actions. It compliments the control/no control themes of Stoicism. I can control my actions, but I cannot control the results of my actions.
For example, I can prepare my best to give a speech. But I cannot control if the audience will applaud. So, I should detach myself from the results (the audience response) and focus on proper action (preparing my speech).
What kind of business projects are you excited to be working on and sharing with your community in the future?
Professionally, I always have interesting things going on. But as far as what I share with my community, that is more along the lines of personal projects.
A couple of projects I’m excited about are two different books I’m currently writing.
One is called The IT leadership Blueprint and will be about the skills IT professionals need to reach their career potential (Stoicism is one of the skills covered in the book). That book is written and should be released by the end of the year.
The other is a book of daily Stoic reflections. That one is about 80% done and I hope to release it in early 2022. Title is to be determined on that one.