Leadership Then & Now

Celebrating our nation's birthday reaffirms the gift of freedom crafted by our founding fathers. This loose knit group of farmers, merchants, and independent thinkers from all thirteen colonies sought liberation from the rule of King George III, manifest in the right to worship as they pleased, and to eliminate taxation without representation.


Convened in Philadelphia on May 19, 1775, shortly after the launch of the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress comprised 58 men ranging in age from 26 to 70, Benjamin Franklin being the eldest. Fifty-six of them eventually signed the Declaration of Independence. Their political and occupational spectrum was broad, divergent on myriad issues. There was a blend of those with agrarian and mercantile interests, varying educational levels, religions, and views on the role of government. Were they otherwise diverse in ways more recognized today? No. Indeed, had women, African Americans, and Native Americans been involved, they might have completed the task better, in half the time, but such were the times.

This band of independent thinkers was united by the quest for freedom from the monarchal tyranny of the British Crown. They sought control of their lives and ultimately the governance of an emerging nation. Their passion and purpose were united for the rights and good of all. Partisanship, what there was of it, was subordinated for the greater good. Bound together in common purpose, many became one, The United States of America. 246 years later, our nation faces an existential crisis, as leadership has given way to tribalism and the "united" in United States of America seems to have gone missing. We no longer command the world stage, have lost two twenty-year wars, despite having the most capable military in history, and give every appearance of a people suffering from ADHD. So, what leadership lessons might we borrow from our founders and apply today? Eight principles from our past come to mind:

Be Laser-Focused And Action-Oriented On Things That Matter
Our founders put their differences aside for the sole purpose of creating a free and independent country. They didn't waste energy or one another's time with theatrics or petty partisanship. They took decisive action for the common good while rising above partisanship. One person, one vote, one decision keyed to the national interest. Move on. Their priorities were clear and understood. We've got work to do on that.

Have Moral Courage
With the Declaration of Independence in 1776, our forefathers (and Mothers) risked it all, not just their treasure, but their very lives for their beliefs. They played for keeps. Too often today, "risk" is not appearing on a favored cable "news" show, losing Twitter followers, or heaven help us…not getting reelected! We must match the level of courage demonstrated by our forebears, go all-in, put selfish interest aside, elect and follow leaders with the integrity and fortitude to do what is right, regardless of what might be best for them personally. We mustn't be too timid or selfish to be those leaders, when called.

Listen To Diverse Viewpoints With Open Minds
Unanimity of opinion was far from the case in 1776. Our founders had many conflicting opinions and beliefs. By setting differences aside in pursuit of solutions aimed to do the greatest good, they crafted policies that, while not perfect for any one individual, were workable for a new nation. They did so because they were willing to look at opposing points of view with real curiosity, and their hearts were in the right place. Leaders listen to and welcome ideas apart from theirs and are willing to give and take to move forward. On this count, I am heartened by the growing inclusion of women, minorities, and youth in both corporate and political roles of power. The listening dividend alone will improve exponentially.

My grandson proudly affirms that it's going to be up to his generation to make a difference. He's right, but we can help smoothen their path. Our younger generations have talent, energy, empathy, and drive. We owe them role models, education, resource, and principled debate of solutions. It's our duty to grab the mantle, light the path, and then get out of their way.

Get Back To Winning!
Mutual respect and trust are the glue to a winning team, and America needs to start winning again. Leadership requires treating everyone with dignity, building upon a common bond of shared values and purpose. It also involves holding everyone, but first ourselves accountable as dues paying stakeholders in the American experiment.

Communicate Openly, Civilly, Meaningfully
Little is accomplished without a free flow of ideas, interests, possibilities. Face to face unfiltered discussions lead to better ideas and outcomes. We have allowed ourselves to be hijacked by the extremes of our political process…the far left and the far right. No one else is to blame. We've done it to ourselves, and we can undo it. If you live in Oklahoma, the "enemy" isn't someone in California, or New York. They're not the ones taking food out of the mouths of your babies.

Speak The Truth
Social media is a communication channel but not always truthful. Leaders must speak the truth even when inconvenient or politically out of step, and openly share it so the public can make its decisions based on facts rather than rhetoric. While we're at it, let's "speak", not shout, and be considerate enough to listen when others are talking.

Care Unselfishly About Others
The nation's founders truly cared about their countrymen. Their "why" was to create a more perfect union. Today, politicians' single-mindedness seems to be toward power and re-election while being subservient to monied supporters and lobbyists. Perhaps we should consider reverting to part-time politicians as they once were, and imposition of term limits; thereby electing folks who are in it for the right reasons, have a naked sense of duty, and a real life to get back to on a regular basis. Leaders are servants who know why they are there, care deeply about and report to those whom they represent. We can do this again.

Perhaps That Is You
Flaws and all, this remains a great country! Though in many respects we seem to have lost our way, I sense that there is still a voice of the people, a gathering heartbeat. I wholeheartedly encourage you to celebrate our independence today, and every day. Send a message calling for principled leadership to your elected representatives, and those who would take their places. Be a leader and voice for positive change, starting right in your own household, your neighborhood. What are you waiting for? The time is now.

God bless America!

Jay McDonald
July 4, 2021