What Business Leaders Can Learn From an Ancient Roman Emperor, Part 2: Focus on What You Can Control!


Around 165 AD, during Marcus Aurelius’ reign, a devastating epidemic, known as the Antonine Plague, hit the Roman Empire. This was a huge health crisis, similar to what we might think of as a pandemic today. It was a tough time, with many people getting sick and dying. The situation was chaotic, and as Emperor, a lot of responsibility fell on Marcus’ shoulders.

Marcus’ Response: Focus on What’s Controllable

In this crisis, Marcus showed his strength as a leader. He knew he couldn’t stop the plague itself – medical science back then wasn’t advanced enough to cure such diseases. But instead of panicking or feeling helpless, Marcus focused on what he could do.

  1. Providing Aid and Support: He organized relief efforts, helping to distribute food and aid to those in need. This was like making sure people had enough resources to get through the tough times.
  2. Staying Calm and Rational: Marcus didn’t let fear or despair take over. He stayed calm and thought clearly about how to help his people. This was crucial because panic could have made things much worse.
  3. Leading by Example: He led by example, showing courage and resilience. This inspired others to be brave and stay strong, even in such a difficult situation.
  4. Embracing Stoic Philosophy: Marcus was a believer in Stoic philosophy, which teaches that we should accept things we can’t change and focus on our own actions and attitudes. He applied this philosophy in dealing with the plague, accepting the situation but working hard to manage its impact.

The Outcome and Legacy

Marcus Aurelius’ handling of the Antonine Plague is remembered as a prime example of effective crisis management. Even though he couldn’t cure the disease, his actions made a big difference in how the empire coped with the crisis.

For Us Today:

  • Accept What You Can’t Change: Just like Marcus accepted that he couldn’t stop the plague, we should accept things beyond our control. This could be market trends, economic downturns, or other external factors in business.
  • Focus on Your Response: Concentrate on how you respond to challenges. This could mean finding new strategies, staying positive, and inspiring your team during tough times.
  • Stay Rational and Calm: In a crisis, keeping a clear head is key. Make decisions based on logic and careful thought, rather than letting emotions drive you.
  • Lead by Example: Just as Marcus did, show resilience and strength. Your attitude can motivate and guide others.

Marcus Aurelius’ story during the Antonine Plague teaches us about the power of focusing on what we can control, even in the face of overwhelming challenges. It’s a lesson about accepting the uncontrollable while making the best of what we can influence.



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