In my quest to read through one definitive biography of every president, I recently completed John Adams by David McCollough.
As a side note, I’m not convinced any of these early presidents were actually Christ-followers. Best I can tell, George Washington was a deist. John Adams had faith in God, but I’m not convinced he had a relationship with Jesus. Thomas Jefferson cut and paste the verses he preferred from the New Testament to create his own Bible. It’s just a good reminder that our founding fathers were elected to lead our country and not to pastor our country.
That said, here are ten leadership lessons from studying the life of John Adams:
The strength of my leadership reflects the strength of my marriage.
“It was the paradox of their lives that, as much as his public role kept them apart, he always needed to be with Abigail and she with him. They would never become accustomed to being separated.”
Character develops in the face of challenge.
“The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”
Don’t stop learning.
“The more Adams thought about the future of his country, the more convinced he became that it rested on education.”
The people I lead may not know what they need.
“But one thing I know, a man must be sensible of the errors of the people, and upon his guard against them, and must run the risk of their displeasure sometimes, or he will never do them any good in the long run.”
Someone will always fill the leadership vacuum.
“Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
Work to preserve unity.
“There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the Republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other.”
Pay attention to physical health.
“’Move or die is the language of our Maker in the constitution of our bodies.’ One must rouse oneself from lethargy. ‘When you cannot walk abroad, walk in your room. . . . Rise up and then open your windows and walk about your room a few times, then sit down again to your books or your pen.’”
When there’s a new vision, there will always be grumbling.
“There would be grumbling over the speech, Abigail wrote. There would always be grumbling, she had come to understand.”
Be slow to anger.
“However crushed, disappointed, saddened, however difficult it was for him to bear up, he expressed no bitterness or envy, and no anger.”
Leaders are loyal.
“There is something in my composition which restrains me from rancor against any man with whom I have once lived in friendship.”
Next on the list is Thomas Jefferson. I’m hoping that in between all the philandering I’ve read about so far that I will still discover some leadership insights. Makes me wonder if some of these early presidents would have survived in today’s instant news and social media climate.
Photo Credit: Asher Brown Durand, via Wikimedia Commons; and Kevin Morris via Unsplash