Stoicism in Government Contracting- Part 1- In a nutshell, what is it?

By Bob Burnett, Director of OASIS PMO

Stoicism is a philosophy that I embrace and employ to help me be more effective at work. So, how does this philosophy relate directly to business development in the world of government contracting? In this four-part blog series, I will outline the 12 themes of Stoicism (as covered in The Daily Stoic, a website that provides stoic wisdom for everyday life) and how I leverage each in my day-to-day government contracting work, specifically in Business Development.

What is Stoicism? Stoicism is a philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. The most famous historical practitioners of Stoicism are Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that having and demonstrating virtue is sufficient for happiness, and judgment should be based on ethical behavior and logic, rather than words or emotions. One of the great aspects of Stoicism is that it is not a philosophy reserved for intellectuals. Anyone can immediately embrace and employ the stoic mindset and discipline, which is something I have been practicing for some time.

To fully comprehend Stoicism, and how we as Business Development professionals can leverage it, we’ll explore three of the major themes of this philosophy: Clarity, Equanimity, and Awareness.

Clarity is simply knowing what is in your control, and knowing what is not in your control. Clarity allows you to focus on topics and actions that you can actually influence, and not distracted by things you cannot change. When pursuing government contracting opportunities, try to be aware of as many things as possible regarding the requirement, customer, contracting mechanism, price to win, and competition; however, limit your energy only on the aspects of these items that you can influence. For example, if the government has already determined the contract vehicle they intend to use, generally accept this and move forward accordingly. If Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) is the evaluation criteria, focus your energy on the pricing aspects of the bid, not on complaining about another LPTA evaluation.

During capture, you cannot control who your competitors are or who gets to meet with the technical Program Manager, but you can control your individual actions during capture…so don’t worry about what the competitors are doing and focus on what you are (or are not) doing to position for the win. A personal example of demonstrating clarity occurred on a recent bid in which we were prepared to pursue as a sub to another small business, but the acquisition ended up being set aside for a socio-economic class, which precluded our prime from bidding. I spent no time worrying or complaining, and simply re-evaluated the opportunity with this new information and adjusted accordingly; rapidly finding a different teaming partner, and moving forward. This type of adjustment occurs regularly in business development; adjusting quickly and professionally allowed us to find a new teaming partner.

Equanimity is being calm, level-headed, and not giving way to emotion. Oftentimes, the acquisition timeline is long, and this can result in frustration for those of us in business development. Getting angry or irritated isn’t going to make the situation better, and complaining to government contracting professionals isn’t going to help. Being calm and displaying patience is a sign of strength and virtue that will not only make you feel better, it will demonstrate to the government that you are mature and possess self-control. Most of us, including our government counterparts, prefer to engage with a person/company that demonstrates maturity and self-control. Equanimity is the practical application of self-control. Admittedly, I struggle with equanimity; I am competitive by nature and can often get too caught up in the competitive aspects of business development. Some practices I have implemented to combat my proclivity for emotion, is to meditate and journal daily; additionally, I now take more time to detach from situations before making decisions or taking action.

Awareness is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being honest about each. Do not fool yourself when it comes to your capabilities and/or shortcomings. From an individual standpoint, if you are an overly aggressive (borderline pushy) salesperson by nature, then acknowledge this and work on ways to temper your approach so that it is more acceptable to your audience. If one of your strengths is approaching and interviewing potential candidates for an upcoming bid, then assist your recruiters and HR personnel appropriately and leverage your talent for the greater good. As I stated in my personal example above regarding equanimity, I can be too emotional when it comes to bids and opportunities. Understanding this weakness has allowed me to identify ways to overcome and/or address this trait. Primarily, I detach myself from the bid…if we are unsuccessful in a bid, it does not necessarily equate to me being unsuccessful.

These stoic themes may seem obvious as good personal characteristics and business development concepts, but when we are in the throes of chasing down and bidding on work, it is too easy to let emotion, rather than reason, rule. It’s important to take a moment to step out of the unpredictable bid & proposal stream from time to time and view the situation as an outside observer; this distant perspective should help you achieve clarity, equanimity, and awareness to help you move the action forward. Further, it is easier to be honest with our situation and ourselves when we step outside ourselves. And, honesty in business is what will ultimately win the day.

We will focus on three additional Stoic themes in the next post. Until then, I encourage you to try these practices at work today to see if they positively influence your work life the way they have mine.

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