Leadership Lessons from the 4th of July
At our leadership team meeting yesterday at Leadercast, our CEO Keith Wilmot asked us to spend some time talking about what the 4th of July means to each of us. After we all shared some different memories of family and recreation, our Chief of Staff, who is a native South African, shared how special the 4th of July is to her, reciting a story of her first 4th of July as a U.S. citizen. I teared up hearing her talk about proudly saying the pledge of allegiance with her new American friends. Her appreciation for what our country represents inspired us all. Our conversation then shifted to the leadership lessons we can learn from our nation’s independence.
That’s a conversation that is right up my alley. I love history and politics. I recently re-watched the John Adams mini-series on HBO, and I’m in the middle of reading Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. I love studying the Revolutionary generation because I sincerely believe our nation was founded by some of the best leaders the world has ever seen. My spiritual friends might question my theology, but I believe the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were divinely inspired.
My favorite aspect of Revolutionary history is the unique, challenging relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They were both flawed men, but they were both brilliant men. We wouldn’t have the United States of America without their leadership. Their correspondence and personal affection for one another in their later years is absolutely beautiful and inspiring. However, that wasn’t always the case. They were also bitter rivals and all but invented negative campaigning. It’s easy to think the vitriol we see between our current would-be leaders is a new phenomenon, and I agree that it’s out of hand, but it certainly isn’t anything new.
Fresh from all that inspiration, I shared two leadership lessons from our nation’s founding with our team:
- The signers of the Declaration fully expected to die for doing so.
- Our nation’s founders knew the importance of compromise and unity.
You have to love the famous Benjamin Franklin quote from the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
That quote is a bridge to both of my takeaways. Firstly, Benjamin Franklin, like every Declaration signer, knew that the consequences of our declaring independence from Great Britain would very likely be a charge of treason and subsequent execution. However, they were so focused in their resolve, that they did so anyway. They were willing to lead, to bravely affix their names to a document with a full understanding of its consequences.
At Leadercast, we recognize that leaders worth following are defined by both their values and their behaviors. The first behavior we recognize as essential to great leadership is bravery. I don’t define bravery as being brazen or irresponsible, but rather calling others to greatness and speaking the truth even when it’s painful.
Secondly, our early leaders knew the importance of being completely united when facing such a powerful foe as King George and the British empire. Their ability to unite despite HUGE differences was the only reason that our divine experiment in democracy ever had a chance.
This leads to the 2nd behavior of a leader worth following: Being BEYOND YOU. There wasn’t a single founding father that entirely got his way. Their meetings were full of heated arguments and conflict. Despite these differences, they united. They focused on a common vision, and formed a great nation.
Maybe that is a lesson for our Fourth of July weekend. Maybe we should stop seeing compromise as a bad thing. Maybe it’s time to demand that leaders put demonization and division aside long enough to compromise and unite on the really important things. We have an enemy that is conducting a war on freedom around the world. We have a country where mass shootings have become all too common. I want a leader that will address both these issues instead of acting like focusing on one can solve the other. It’s not an “either/or” proposition. Our problems demand “both/and” solutions. I want a Brave leader who will put our nation first, above politics and lobbyists. I want a ” Brave, Beyond You” leader!
As we all spend time with friends and family this weekend, many of our conversations will turn to how divisive our current state of politics have become. I’m here to tell you, that’s not a new phenomenon. However, we had leaders who were willing to exhibit the kind of “bravery” and “beyond you” leadership that was needed to address the challenges of their time. That is exactly what we need today.