Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I spent the first five years of my life in Lexington, MA, and then moved to Concord for grade school. Growing up in the place where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired gave me a unique perspective on the birth of our nation. If
you ever have the opportunity to visit Lexington and Concord, take it. They are very special places, and I
can assure you, it will fill you with unique perspective on what it means to be an American.
A Congress of Strangers
As a country, we spend a lot of time each Fourth of July around the grill yet little time reflecting on
our Founding Fathers. But this holiday gets me thinking about leadership. When the First Continental
Congress gathered together in Philadelphia in 1774, hardly any of the 56 men in attendance knew one
another, yet they were asked to trust each other implicitly as the engaged in what amounted to an act
of High Treason. They were drawn there by a common goal, and they were able to work together to
create and pass the Declaration of Independence, and then went on to finish the war and build a new,
How did a small group of farmers and businessmen stand up to (and eventually defeat) the most
powerful nation in the world? Anyone who has ever lead a team knows how difficult it can be to get
everyone to work together on even the smallest of projects, let alone birth a nation. All of the delegates
to the Continental Congress had a common goal, but they also had their own priorities and their own
constituents to answer to. The obstacles that the Continental Congress had to overcome in order to
work together toward independence were far greater than what we have to deal with each day. But
somehow these men were able to overcome their issues of trust and achieve their common – and almost
inconceivable – goal.
Leadership Lessons From our Founders
So just what can we learn about teamwork from our founding fathers? How can we, as leaders, help
teams overcome mistrust in order to achieve our goals?
- Identify the Common Goal – While each colony may have had its own unique priorities, all of the delegates were able to agree on one basic conviction: The cause of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They were able to table their individual goals to rally around the greater goal. In our own teams, it can be beneficial to identify those goals that everyone can agree on and that everyone can rally around, making those the priority for everyone.
- The Power of a Purpose – The Founders of our nation pledged their “reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” It was their unifying purpose. As leaders, we must always have a clear purpose and mission that charts a course for our teams to follow.
- Draw on the Strengths of Each Team Member – Our country wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if the Founding Fathers all had the same sets of strengths and weaknesses. George Washington was a born to be a military leader. Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant writer. John Adams was a skilled negotiator and political strategist. None of these men could have achieved independence all by himself. They all had to rely on each other in order to get the job done. As a leader, you must build a team that has a variety of unique and complementary strengths.
- In the Face of Setbacks, Regroup – Very early in the war, the Continental Army was almost crushed. They had suffered devastating defeats in New York toward the end of 1776, and had to retreat to Pennsylvania. Morale was low, and many Colonists abandoned the cause, as they believed the British would soon quash the revolution. Instead of conceding defeat, George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night in freezing temperatures in order to surround and surprise the enemy. It was a turning point for the army – and for the cause. When we, as leaders, suffer setbacks that affect the morale of our teams, we should not get mired down. Instead, we should regroup and try a new plan of attack to really our teams to move forward.
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Teamwork Comes With Sacrifice
We often think of the Founding Fathers as invincible, but they experienced many hardships and made
many sacrifices. Of the 56 members of the First Continental congress, five were captured and tortured
by the British army and twelve saw their homes ransacked and burned to the ground. Several men lost
sons in the fight. Nine picked up arms, fought and died in the war. A few sold everything they owned to
support the cause and died in poverty. Working together as a team is never easy. We all face hardships
and are asked to make sacrifices. This Independence Day, take a moment to think about what you, as a
leader, can learn from our Founders and how you can apply those lessons to your own teams.
Happy Fourth of July!