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3 Imperatives our Founding Fathers Knew About Leadership

There is no better day to contemplate the contributions of our Founding Fathers than on Independence Day.  As the fireworks light up the evening sky, I am reminded of the sacrifice, Leadership, and vision that the Founding Fathers exhibited during the inception of our nation.

During times of great change, it takes true Leadership to bring about success.  Leaders who understand people.  Leaders who understand strategy.  And Leaders who understand passion.

The Leaders who took the reigns during the American Revolution are a varied and diverse crew.  They not only had to overcome the debate of whether or not to remain a colony, but then had to plot a course to independence and appoint those who would lead the way.  During the great adventure, several Leaders rose to prominence and brought forth some amazing attributes that helped drive success.

These are the three secrets that our Founding Fathers knew about Leadership that we must know too if we are going to be Leaders who win in times of trouble as well as triumph.

Know That Leaders Come in All Shapes and Sizes: Three of the seminal figures at the inception of our nation were George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.  All had their strengths and their flaws.  Adams, for example, was a terrific orator and passionate patriot, but succumbed often to vanity and longing for recognition.  But together they had a great blend of thought and background, but all were a driving force behind the march to independence.  Washington brought tactical and military prowess along with a knack for picking talent and inspiring men to stay with the cause long after their tours of duty were over.  Jefferson was a talented writer with a poetic hand and a sense of vision that would lead us to expand the nation during his presidency.  Adams was a skilled speaker and roused support for Independence throughout his time in Congress.  He also helped the fledgling United States gain much needed recognition in the wider world when he coaxed recognition as a sovereign state by the Netherlands in 1782.  Now these history facts are fun, but the key here is that these three pillars were so very different.  One was tall and stalwart; another plump and blustery; and the other bookish, dichotomous, and innovative.  The takeaway for us as Leaders is not to pigeonhole others – Leaders are not a cookie cutter commodity and it takes all sorts to lead an organization.  Ask yourself always if have enough diversity in your organization and think of diversity in the widest possible sense.

Know the Talents of your People.  There is no doubt that great Leadership has less to do with knowing everything than with the ability to align talent with their strongest skills.  Most folks might have dismissed Daniel Morgan and Friedrich Von Steuben due to their pasts, but the Continental Army under Washington was wise enough to see their value.  The former implemented the guerilla tactics that helped minimize the numbers advantage of the British and the latter literally wrote the book on Regulations for the Troops of the United States.  So often we look at the past of our teams and don’t see their promise, but rather the obstacles they have experienced in the past.  That kind of thinking will only serve to minimize the future contributions of your talented teams, so look past what has been and envision what can be.  Then get to work and help your teams get there.

Know that the Answer is Usually Somewhere in the Middle.  There is never a good time to not have consensus – and the impact to morale is multiplied during challenging moments.  At times, the colonies were as far apart on the direction of the movement as people could be.  On one side you had a group who would have welcomed a reconciliation with Great Britain and others who wanted to break off ties totally.  If you think you have work place drama, think about how tense those meetings must have been.  Toss in the fact that they were in the middle of what would have been considered treason, and now you’ve really turned up the stress level.  Even during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence wording was changed after Jefferson wrote his first draft.  In fact, the first line “We hold these truths to be self evident” started at “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.”  However, the crew writing the Declaration, which included Adams and Benjamin Franklin as well, compromised several times throughout the creation of the document before they submitted to Congress.  The creation of the Constitution less than a decade later would become an even more challenging feat, needing compromise and cool heads to finalize and ratify this important legislation.  As Leaders we must understand that compromise will happen often as we manage change.  There are certain times when there will be absolute rights or wrongs, but most often the answer will live in the middle.  Think about when you have mediated conflicts – doesn’t it always end with more sustained change when the solution is a mix of all the ideas in the room?  So did the Founders and Framers.

So while you are not planning a new government, your challenges may seem as herculean on many days.  It is easy to get buried in the landslide of leading change and lose perspective.  When that happens take solace in the fact that the Founding Fathers had many set backs as well.  There were arguments, secret agendas, and failures of all shapes and sized.  Not all battles were won but yet everyone fought on pulling the rope in the same direction.

That is how Leaders drive success: By refusing to lose!

So until next time, Happy Independence Day.


Tony Johnson Customer Service Expert | Author | Trainer | Speaker

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