Thursday's Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Founding Father John Adams

I’m sure you’re aware Independence Day is here again, but what you may not know is this little fact in history: in 1776, the founding fathers actually voted for Independence on July 2nd. This lead founding father John Adams to conclude, “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival . . . It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forever more.” Nowadays, Americans will look for any excuse to parade and feast, from New Year’s events to graduation parties. When my nephew, PJ, who interned at Intero in our Marketing Department, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last month, we celebrated much in the same way as we do on the 4th of July. So Adams predicted the festivities correctly, but he was off by two days because while the Congress voted in approval of the idea of independence on July 2nd, Thomas Jefferson, along with Adams and Benjamin Franklin, wrote the formal Declaration of Independence on July 4th, making that our official Independence Day.

John Adams is linked to the 4th of July in another way too: he died at 90 years old on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration he helped write. Adams is a bona fide American hero, even though he is not the most shutterstock_72825820popular figure in American history. In addition to being the leading advocate of the Declaration of Independence in the Continental Congress, John Adams was also a leader of the American Revolution, being the one who nominated George Washington to be our commander-in-chief in 1775. Adams also led the country as the first Vice President, the second President, and the first president to reside in the White House.

Known as the “Atlas of Independence,” Adams’ legacy is one of reason, moral leadership, the rule of law, compassion, and a trying balance between securing national interest and achieving peace. Here are some leadership lessons we can learn from John Adams taken from Profiles in Leadership by Alan Axelrod:

• Define your ideals and remain true to them even when faced with popular defiance. • Do not sacrifice your principles and ultimate goals to the passions of the moment. • Effective leaders communicate effectively. • Much of leadership is nothing more or less than navigating between extreme positions. • Determine your priorities. Leadership decisions often involve hard sacrifices. • Do not try to avoid conflict by relinquishing authority.