Frequently leadership gurus wax eloquent regarding great philosophical principles of leadership, but have very little fruit on the tree. If the true mark of leadership is influence (and I believe it is), one must ask, “How is that influence gained?” I believe influence is earned through actions. The old cliché “actions speak louder than words” is true.
So if leadership is influence, and influence is earned through actions, that is, practicing what one preaches, then let’s examine some examples of true leadership. Before I launch into this series of figures that I feel have shown great examples of leadership, let me offer this disclaimer. None of them are prefect. In fact some of them are deeply flawed. Great leaders are not perfect, but they do stand out through their actions when it counts.
So let’s dig in. As I examine those whom I believe offer us great examples of leadership, I will use the lens of character, courage, and compassion that I addressed in an earlier blog post.
John Adams was elected President of the United States in 1796 narrowly defeating Thomas Jefferson. He became the 2nd President of the United States in 1797 and served one term. He was defeated in his reelection bid as the tables turned and Thomas Jefferson became the 3rd President of the United States.
John Adams had his faults. Many, including his friends, considered him vain, opinionated, and stubborn. And yet it may be those perceived human failings that led to some of his greatest leadership moments.
John Adams had character. Many Americans do not realize that during John Adams Presidency, the United States came dangerously close to declaring war on France. Popular opinion favored such an action. Adams knew that the United States was in no position to fight another war and, if it did, would most likely lose. He pursued a policy of diplomacy and peace, and was able to avoid war. While it cost him dearly in the public opinion arena (it most likely was one of the leading causes of his defeat in his bid for reelection) he nevertheless pointed to this as one of his most important accomplishments as President. As Orrin Woodward states in his book Resolved: 13 Resolutions for LIFE, a great leader will “…choose character over reputation any time they conflict.” Adams did!
John Adams had courage. In perhaps one of the greatest ironies in American History, John Adams, a leading advocate for American independence and a complete break from Great Britain, headed the defense of the British soldiers who were charged and tried for the shootings that are commonly known as the Boston Massacre. At the time, most Bostonians had a mob mentality and wanted the eight soldiers immediately executed for murder. I will not go into the details of the event here as they are really irrelevant to the point (you can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Massacre); suffice it to say John Adams was not a very popular figure for defending the British Soldiers. Adams was a man of conviction. Not only did he lead the defense in the name of justice and providing a fair trial to the soldiers, he won. Six of the soldiers were acquitted and two were convicted on lesser charges. Adams’s courage throughout the trial established him as a man of immense integrity who would follow his principles regardless of the personal price that may have to be paid.
John Adams had compassion. One only has to read the letters between Adams and his wife Abigail to get great insight into the depth of Adams's compassion. He had great passion not only for his wife and children, but also for the new country that was being born on his watch. These letters, with perhaps the exception of the John Adams/Thomas Jefferson letters, are the most revealing evidence of the heart and soul of the man. He discussed in detail the many issues that were facing him, the colonies, and the new country. If you are unfamiliar with either of these sets of correspondences, I highly recommend them. Both are easily found.
John Adams was not perfect and all of his decisions have not been gained favor with posterity (let us not forget the Alien and Sedition Acts). However, even his staunches critics cannot deny that as a leader and as a man, John Adams was a man of great influence and demonstrated Character, Courage, and Compassion! John Adams for a leader!
On another note, I am pleased to share that my good friend and follow student of leadership, John Plastow, has published his second book…his first on leadership.
You can purchase your copy on BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, Xulonpress.com/bookstore or ask your favorite bookstore to order it for you. It is available as a paperback and in most e-book formats.