Leadership Lessons from our Nation’s Founders

Written By: Denise Forney

constitution_2As we look back on the celebration of our 4th of July, I cannot help but get nostalgic when I reflect on the words of Lee Greenwood’s patriotic song: “Yes, I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me, and I’ll proudly stand up, next to her and defend her still today. Because there ain’t no doubt, I love this land. God Bless the USA.”

It’s a beautiful tribute to a nation we all live in and love. But as I stop to think about the leaders that actually stood up to defend her almost 240 years ago, I can’t help but wonder if the lessons they taught us in leadership are still applicable today?

Alright, let’s take a trip back in time to 1776. A handful of famous men are struggling to create a republic against insurmountable odds. The military might of Britain is keeping them from their goal. Things look impossible from the reports of George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army.

Meanwhile at this time, in Congress, a Pennsylvanian by the name of John Dickinson, a respected spokesman for the rights of British Americans, calls for delay. He argues that independence is a dangerous step in the absence of a national government and European allies. But ultimately, leadership triumphs. The collaboration between three historic leaders and their talents save the day. The passion of John Adams, the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin and the eloquence of Thomas Jefferson carry the cause of independence on July 4th, which has been maintained to this very day.

So, what are the lessons learned in leadership from our nation’s founders?

Set Clear Goals: Leaders who work together to set clear objectives and stay focused on them can achieve amazing results. John Adams, who was considered one of the most revolutionary political leaders of his time, knew that he had to help the existing colonies focus on one goal – independence.

Competence Matters: Whether it is front-line troops protecting our freedom or front-line workers impacting the bottom line, both need the knowledge, skills and abilities to do a great job. In addition, if they have smart, focused leadership backing them up, they can be motivated to go beyond the ordinary and accomplish extraordinary things. Our early revolutionaries proved when they are inspired and effectively led, they can outlast and defeat any army.

Motivational & Timely Leadership: According to Ron Chernow, who wrote a documentary on the history of “Washington,” the official copies of the Declaration weren’t finished and signed until Saturday, July 6th. On that day the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, who was in Philadelphia, also sent General Washington a signed copy. Washington, who was up in New York with his troops, received it on July 8th and had it read to the troops on July 9th. After it was read to them, the troops got really fired-up. Washington needed to engage and motivate his revolutionaries, and he did it in a very timely way. In essence, he used the Declaration to motivate his troops and give cause to fight the Revolutionary War.

We would not have the freedom that we easily take for granted today if it weren’t for the brave and courageous leadership choices made way back in 1776. Leaders of our country that set clear goals. Leaders that understood that competence matters and used the knowledge, skills and abilities of every revolutionary to put it all on the line. Leaders that motivated and inspired with clear communication and a declaration of the promise of our freedom.

The lessons of yesterday’s leadership from our founding fathers still ring true today. It’s their legacy. Let’s continue to celebrate this freedom we’ve been given to lead others. As Lee Greenwood stated, “let’s proudly stand up next to them and defend them.” Let’s lead our charges in our companies and beyond, proudly and courageously.