Know Much About His-tor-eeeee:
Why Successful Business Leaders Love
“A nation that expects to
be ignorant and free in a state of civilization … expects what never
was and never will be,” Thomas Jefferson remarked on his rationale
for being a veracious reader of history.
businesspeople read about the leaders of the past, they want to
learn what they can do today when their companies are at stake.
Current leaders in business and nonprofits face a faltering economy,
an unstable international situation, a credit crunch, fierce
competition, and shifting demographics. These situations are
remarkably similar to the challenges faced by the U.S. leaders who
gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new constitution and
form a government to tackle the issues. Some modern business owners
are learning and applying success secrets from these founders.
Historical Secrets of Successful Leaders:
What are the
historical secrets today’s successful and savvy business leaders
know that less successful ones don’t?
Despite the words of the old pop song, “Don’t Know Much About
His-tor-eeeee!” smart businesspeople know the importance of
learning from the past. They’re interested not only in avoiding
mistakes, but also understanding how important leaders faced
monumental challenges and succeeded. The U.S. founders were all
history buffs. As the framers debated the details of the
Constitution, they pointed to specific lessons from the rise and
fall of the Roman Republic to make our own republic more robust.
people know the importance of relaxation, including reading.
They are clear about their priorities. These folks spend time
resting and enjoying their families and friends. Their
historical counterparts enjoyed rich social and family lives,
were physically active and never stopped reading and thinking.
The founders didn’t have seminars on work-life balance but still
achieved more than most people today, while making time for
Strategic businesspeople read, watch or listen to history and
biographies because they enjoy learning. They are always
looking for ways to improve their performances by absorbing the
lessons of the past. George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin
Franklin left a rich legacy of their ongoing self-improvement
efforts. When the framers wrote in the Constitution they wanted
“to establish a more perfect union,” they were reflecting their
personal journeys seeking to become more perfect leaders.
Admired business leaders admire their country and its history
and want to learn from it. They look for ways to practice their
citizenship whether on the local, national or global level. They
not only served on nonprofit boards, they mentor students, build
homes and dish up dinner in soup kitchens. Ben Franklin founded
dozens of civic organizations, while Alexander Hamilton and John
Jay helped found one of the early societies for the abolition of
slavery. Thomas Jefferson founded a university to create an
“academical village” to mingle formal education with practical
commercial learning. The founders constantly looked for ways to
improve their world.
to complain about government. But unless a businessperson
understands the origins and current functioning of our
government, he or she will find it difficult to interact with it
effectively or be a good citizen. Our “Founding Parents” never
turned down the call of their country to serve it. They
believed it was their duty to be in public service at some
point, even when it would interfere with their business and
leaders are committed to becoming better leaders. What better
role models to learn from than the towering successes and all
too human shortcomings of the nation’s founders? We can all
learn from the U.S. founders precisely because they are so like
us, so human. They struggled with the same shortcomings modern
leaders must overcome. They provide a practical guide to
leading under the most difficult circumstances.
founders staked “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,”
believing liberty required an informed public. Modern and
historic leaders know national survival requires more than an
extravaganza of politics every four years. Many of the key
political debates today hinge on what was going on in the minds
and lives of U.S. leaders in the late 18th and early
19th century. Modern business leaders know these
continuing debates will have a direct effect on whether their
companies will survive and thrive in a tough economic climate.
They stay informed, learn from history and encourage their
employees, friends and family to stay up-to-date and involved.
learning from the past is easier than ever with information and
media readily available to every leader. Over the last decade, the
publication of an unprecedented number of enthralling histories and
biographies means there is no excuse for ignorance of American
history and its implications for today.
culture has always had an anti-intellectual strain, the price we pay
perhaps for trying to establish a society where all people “are
created equal.” But look at the country’s admired founders. They
were certainly not anti-intellectuals. George Washington, Benjamin
Franklin and Abigail Adams, all of whom were self-educated, were
admired by their contemporaries for their keen minds. Alexander
Hamilton, often acknowledged as one of the most brilliant minds of
his generation, was a self-made man with who dropped out of college
to join the Revolution. Of course, the formally educated Thomas
Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams are also seen as formidable
intellects. Successful modern leaders never stop learning and are
not ashamed to bring their insights from their learning into making
decisions and leading their organizations.
managers, savvy entrepreneurs, successful owners, strategic
businesspeople “know a lot about his-tor-eeee” and they apply it
every day. So flip on that TV, slip in that DVD, surf the web,
download an MP3, crank up that CD or grab a book and start your
leadership learning journey today. The founding fathers and mothers
are waiting to coach you to brilliance.
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