Leadership Lessons From the Founders

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signing-declaration-of-independenceThere were plenty of reasons not to be in Philadelphia in June and July of 1776. It was hot, muggy, and mosquitoes and horseflies filled the air. But, in spite of the discomfort, a small group gathered to discuss nothing less than separating, by force of arms, from the most powerful nation in the world. These leaders produced the Declaration of Independence, a document that fundamentally changed history, and in the process, demonstrated five basic leadership fundamentals.

1. They understood the mission. It’s essential for a leader and the team to know why they are there. The delegates all came to Philadelphia to address grievances against the mother country. The English parliament had been violating their own laws, the colonies were suffering as a result, and they wanted that to stop. Though not everyone who came to Philadelphia was initially in favor of seceding from Great Britain, they all understood the actions of the mother country were no longer tolerable and some action must be taken.

2. They were well read and had great knowledge of the issues at hand. Great leaders are always striving to learn and their minds are open to new thoughts and ideas which they endeavor to apply to their responsibilities. Historians tell us that America’s founders, though many did not have the benefit of a formal education, were some of the most knowledgeable and well read persons of their, or any other, time. In that room in Philadelphia gathered a group unique in history for pure intellectual might.

3. They knew what they believed. They each had an underlying set of values and lived by them. There was general agreement among the delegation of what those basic values were. Even though not all members were protestant Christians they did all share a belief in a higher power. This common set of values was instrumental in guiding their efforts.

4. They did not rush to judgment. Though today we look at July 4th and the date of the Declaration of Independence, the meeting in Philadelphia started in June and in fact, the cauldron of discontent had been boiling for many years. The delegation was actually the last part of what had been a very lengthy and considered discourse.

5. They were willing to take a risk. A huge risk! Benjamin Franklin’s famous and oft-quoted plea that they must “all hang together, otherwise, most assuredly we will hang separately” was not just hyperbole. The members of the delegation knew that what they were doing would be considered treason by England and treated as a capital offense if they were unsuccessful.

Though leaders of today often live in a high stress world, few must face consequences like those who attended that delegation in 1776. The document they produced stands as testament to what great leadership can accomplish.

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