3 Leadership Lessons from US History

Every year on the 4th of July my wife and I go back to her hometown of Frankenstein, MO (it’s a real place!) and we celebrate with friends and family and have a fun time. July 4th is America’s birthday. It’s a time of reflection for our freedom and all that makes our country great. For some of us we celebrate through fireworks and barbecue out back, for others it means a day off work, and for some the day is spent remembering those who came before us. However you choose to spend this federally recognized holiday, it’s worth slowing down for a few minutes to reflect on what brought us here.

*Disclaimer: We can all agree that the founding fathers/presidents/our government did/have done/continue to do some great things and some, well, terrible things. But for the purpose of this article, let’s just focus on the good things!*

If we look to the birth of each president, we’ll find that not a single one came out of the womb as President of the United States. Each started this life as essentially regular people like you and I. But as they grew into adults, someone recognized something special in them. Like them, I know there are people in your life who look to you as a leader even if you don’t realize it yet.

So take heed on this holiday and learn from those who have come before us. There are 3 lessons on leadership we can learn from those who helped give us a reason to celebrate this important holiday.

1) It’s Okay to Think Differently: You May Be onto Something

At one point in our history the status quo was that “America” existed under the sovereign control of the British. It was a colony made up of people who had come to an unknown land to start anew under the rule of a king across the sea. At some point someone thought, You know what? It would be pretty cool to do our own thing. So the colonists began working together to explore this idea and eventually (after many years and a costly war) that thought turned into our Declaration of Independence.

Truly think for a minute about if you decided today that you would no longer be under the rule of the United States, decided to secede, and start your own nation. The very idea is crazy talk! But the founding fathers had a vision in the mid 1700s of how things could be done differently and the gumption to see it through, even though many questioned the feasibility of their decision.

So many great ideas, inventions, and careers have come from people who decided to go against the grain and see things through even though others said it wouldn’t work or rejected their ideas. Ted Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) initial manuscript was turned down twenty-eight times before the first yes; Colonel Sanders (KFC) at the age of 65 had his now famous recipe for fried chicken turned down 1,006 times before someone said yes; and even Henry Ford had his first two attempts at the Ford Motor Company fail and go into bankruptcy before at the age of 40 before he found success.

Never give up! Leaders sometimes see a vision that others haven’t grasped yet and they must keep going through the challenges until it becomes a reality. Never give up.

What have you told yourself you can’t do? Where did you last give up? What can you do to pick it back up where you left off and see it through this time?

2)  Stand Up for What’s Right, Not Who’s Right

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into existence on January 1, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln it was but one of many steps towards the end of slavery. This was in the third year of a bloody civil war over (at the root of it) slavery and the continued exploitation of our fellow man. In the slaveholding South there were many who stood up against the confederate states’ militia and either moved their families north or stayed put and aided the escape of African-Americans to the North via the underground railroad.

These people were technically breaking the law of their local government. They were putting themselves and their families at risk of imprisonment, forfeiture of lands, and, in some cases, death.

But they stood up for the principles that matter. They recognized that following the “law” in the South at that time meant continuing to perpetuate an evil stain on this country. They stood up for what was right and did not use the rules and constraints of the time as an excuse to sit on the sidelines.

Leaders are people who do the right thing for the right reasons—always. Zig Ziglar says,

With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing so you will have no guilt.

All too often leaders can get caught up in the minutiae of procedure and process. Be a leader who recognizes the situation for what it is, and does everything they can to make it right with the best attitude possible.

Where have you gotten caught up in the process? Have you caught yourself in a white lie and thought, It’s not that big of a deal . . . Leaders stand up for what is right—always.

3) Acknowledge Your Mistakes and Have Hope for Tomorrow

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We have a messy history as a country. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. As a country we’ve made a ton of mistakes and while we have come very far we still have so far to go. If you have a choice between hoping and dreaming for a better life or not having any hope at all . . . why not choose the positive outlook? The founding fathers and presidents since have echoed this sentiment. Take it from our favorite tenor saxophone playing 90s democrat Bill Clinton,

If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.”

I love that mindset because I have definitely made a few mistakes myself! Leaders, though, are people who recognize that even though when challenges come, they will do their best to find a solution. They will keep on fighting the good fight and giving their best.

What mistakes are you holding on to? What do you need to let go of in order to clearly see the abundance of opportunity in front of you right now?

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No matter what you do on this 4th of July—be it work, play, or rest—I hope you take the time to slow down for a few minutes. I’ll challenge you to find something about this country to be grateful for and to process the lessons learned from our leading forefathers. When the fireworks end and life resumes its normal pace what will you choose to focus on? There are people in your life who look to you for direction and wisdom so what legacy will you choose to leave behind?

And in the interminable words of Gary Johnston in Team America: World Police, “America **** Yea!”

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