Today is President’s Day, a day in which I always reflect back on the birth of our country. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I was born in Boston and spent my early years there, with many a weekend or summer day spent exploring the Freedom Trail. One of my great-grandmothers was born in a home behind Paul Revere’s, and I was infused with a sense of patriotism at a very early age.
The book John Adams by David McCullough does an amazing job of bringing those early years of our country to bold-colored life. More specifically, it imbued me with a clear understanding of the real depths of the sacrifices made by our early leaders – life-altering sacrifices made on behalf of their country.
So today, as we take on the topic of “the accidental leader” for this week’s Leadership Chat, I’d like to focus on the first few Presidents of our country who I believe are the best example of accidental leaders: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.
When you think of an accidental leader, what comes to mind? For me it’s:
- Someone who finds themself unexpectedly in a position of leadership to which they did not originally aspire
- Someone who may or may not actually be practiced in the art of leadership
- Someone who rises to the occasion, sometimes against great odds
What is it that enables them to successfully meet the challenges they are unexpectedly faced with? In the case of our first few Presidents I ardently believe it was the following:
- A strong sense of values and belief structure
- Loyalty to something much larger than themselves
- A willingness to make life-altering sacrifices for that larger cause – to stand up when others were afraid to
- Optimism laced with a healthy amount of skepticism
- Vision – above all other things – a clear vision
I think these are all demonstrated magnificently in McCullough’s book as he recounted the following in regard to the final hours of the writing of the Declaration of Independence:
To no one’s surprise, Adams did not sit silently by. He was present every hour, “fighting fearlessly for every word,” as Jefferson would write.
No man better merited than Mr. John Adams to hold a most conspicuous place in the design. He was the pillar of its support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and the defender against the multifarious assaults encountered.
Finally, to Jefferson’s concluding line was added the phrase, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” an addition that Adams assuredly welcomed. Thus it would read:
And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
We all know that there are numerous “accidental leaders” right now all over the world making real changes to our world. People put into positions they might not have anticipated even a week ago, who are rising to the occasion. Many of us are writing and talking about these changes while others are taking life-altering actions, and a quote crossed my desk thanks to Susan Young by Henry David Thoreau that made this more poignant:
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live
I believe that when there is a willingness to make deep, life-altering sacrifices for your country – or for any cause larger than yourself – you are demonstrating a love and loyalty that will be your “North Star” regardless of the strength of the challenges you are surmounting. This is what I believe separates the “accidental leader” who changes the world from the “accidental almost-leader” who crumbles under the pressure.
What do you believe? Please share in the comments…you always make me think bigger and differently in such positive ways.
And please join Steve Woodruff and me, along with the brilliant Leadership Chat Community on Tuesday evening, February 22nd at 8:00 pm Eastern Time as we honor President’s Day by discussing “the Accidental Leader.” We’ll share insights and experiences -you won’t want to miss it! Everyone is welcome!
You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lisapetrilli. I look forward to seeing you there!
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Photo of John Trumbull’s famous painting is Declaration of Independence by conservativemajority on Flickr.