I’m continuing my journey of reading through definitive biographies of all the presidents of the United States. For our fourth president, I chose James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney.
Here are the leadership lessons I picked up from my reading:
Be courageous to stand up for the minority voices.
“Factions, or interest groups, were endemic to the human race, and the challenge was making sure that majority rule, which was at the heart of republican government, did not become an instrument for one faction to suppress others.”
Change the way people think if you want to change how they act.
“And he was about to do what geniuses do: change forever the way people think.”
There are times when leaders remain silent.
“Madison offered his own, more pointed version: ‘He showed his wisdom by saying nothing.’”
Never waver on core principles.
“When a basic principle was involved, Madison could be a man of utterly dogged determination—stubbornness, some would call it.”
Embrace healthy conflict.
“Madison was also developing another idea: that the absence of clashing ideas and competing interests leads to overreaching and corruption.”
Leaders make ideas happen.
“He was capable not only of deeply creative thinking but of turning his thoughts into reality.”
Boldness comes from conviction. You need both to lead strong.
“‘Madison came boldly forward and supported the Constitution with the soundest reason and most manly eloquence I ever heard. He understands his subject well and his whole soul is engaged in its success and it appeared to me he would have flashed conviction into every mind.’”
A shorter message is typically a much more powerful message.
“When Madison reached the president-elect’s home on February 22, 1789, he found that Washington was right to have concerns. The seventy-three-page draft was, he later observed, a ‘strange production.’ He stayed with Washington for a week, writing a much shorter speech for him.”
If you lead the way, expect some to consider you crazy.
“Benjamin Franklin had once said of Adams, that he was ‘always an honest man, often a great one, but sometimes absolutely mad.’”
Be open to the thinking of those with whom you don’t agree.
“When experience proved that his opponents’ ideas had merit, he incorporated them into his own thinking.”
Of course, the most fascinating part of the James Madison story may be his relationship with his wife, Dolley. She appears to have played a key role in his leadership. It’s a reminder that healthy leadership often is a reflection of a healthy marriage.