May 30, 2016 Tony Morgan

10 Leadership Lessons from John Quincy Adams


As I progress through the biographies of the presidents, I read John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger. This was a fascinating read because John Quincy’s legacy spans from the days under the leadership of George Washington to serving with Abraham Lincoln.

Here are 10 leadership lessons from my reading:

  1. It takes courage to make the right decision before it’s the popular decision.

    “With support from Illinois freshman congressman Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams forced the House of Representatives to repeal the so-called Gag Rule that banned debate over slavery. He then stunned Congress—and the nation—by demanding that Congress extend constitutional liberties to Americans of African descent by abolishing slavery.”

  2. The strength of the leader is often a reflection of the strength of the family.

    “Abigail constantly reminded John Quincy of his family heritage and his father’s achievements as a scholar, lawyer, and legislator, as well as his courage in defying British rule and risking death by serving in the Continental Congress.”

  3. Disciplines shape character.

    “Until Louisa’s pregnancy, John Quincy had seldom attended religious services, but in the winter of 1801, he added daily Bible reading to his routine after the sudden death of a young army officer at an otherwise joyful, turn-of-the-century New Year’s party on December 31, 1799.”

  4. The wisest decision doesn’t always lead to the most accolades.

    “I see the impossibility of pursuing the dictates of my own conscience without sacrificing every prospect not merely of advancement, but even of retaining that character and reputation I have enjoyed.”

  5. Be willing to take new ground.

    “Although many of his proposals were two centuries ahead of their time, John Quincy was out of touch with his America.”

  6. Strive for influence rather than popularity.

    “Although the best-prepared chief executive in American history at the time, he was the least effective and least popular, and he did not understand why, given his deep love for his country.”

  7. Leverage your strengths to define your role.

    “He was, of course, a master at interrelating with czars, kings, counts, and courtiers, but had simply never had the chance to befriend ordinary citizens—at home or abroad.”

  8. Make a difference rather than striving to attain a position.

    “John Quincy went beyond the halls of Congress to the American people and became a national presence, a force for justice and progress that he had never been before—even as President of the United States.”

  9. Prioritize what’s best for others.

    “He was an aristocrat of an earlier generation, raised in an age of deference, who spoke a rich language that ordinary people could seldom fathom, but in the end, they sensed that he spoke for their greater good and to protect their rights and freedoms.”

  10. Your purpose will shape your most significant contribution.

    “You must have one great purpose of existence . . . to make your talents and your knowledge most beneficial to your country and most useful to mankind.”

John Quincy Adams was a courageous leader. Now I turn my attention to one of the most intriguing characters to live in the White House — Andrew Jackson.


Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy The Hague via Compfight cc

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.
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