Our Founding Fathers Were Everyday Leaders
Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. ~Dwight D. Eisenhower
It’s the fourth of July weekend and I am thinking about the leaders that led to us celebrating this holiday 235 years later. When we think about those men and women we think of them as great leaders…Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abigail Adams…and they were. But they were also ordinary people. They worked hard as farmers, they were business entrepreneurs and they leveraged their individual creativity. They had family problems, got enmeshed in small town politics and had their “buttons pushed,” just like the rest of us.
In 1990 I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Page Smith, the historian, and one of the (many) biographers of John Adams. He started his early career at Camp William James, a student youth leadership program in Tunbridge, Vermont, in 1940. I cherish the memory of hearing him speak at the 50 year anniversary celebration of Camp William James. As a university professor used to giving lectures that would keep his students engaged, he talked in a lively and humorous way about how profound the experience of Camp William James was for him. He was a big man with a bellowing laugh and the entire time he spoke tears were streaming down his cheeks. Talking about the experience was emotional for him, but that didn’t actually cause the tears, he had some disorder that caused the tears to flow. It didn’t matter what caused it, we felt listening to him that we had a window into his soul. One of his students said at his memorial that he was ‘a scholar with a heart.’ We saw it that day.
I think of Page today, because from that early start he never stopped being a leader 24/7.
Page was the founding provost of Cowell College, UC Santa Cruz’s first college. In this role, he gathered together the faculty and students and developed a unique and innovative educational institution. He founded the William James Association, based on the philosophy that community service is the moral equivalent of war. He was an advocate for the community’s homeless; he was instrumental in establishing the Homeless Shelter and the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz. He is the author of over twenty books. Page loved raising chickens, enjoyed sports events, played tennis, was an avid fly fisherman, and at 60 took up printmaking. “Page was well known and loved for his generosity, fierce integrity, high ideals, and gentle spirit.”
All that is true, but what I remember so vividly about Page is how he loved and lived so well. Every day. He had tremendous gratitude for life and appreciation for what he cherished. This appreciation even extended to his chickens, which he wrote a book about, The Chicken Book.
I remember in his talk over 20 years ago that he shared the story of how John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day, July 4th, 1826. Page loved writing the two volume book about John Adams because there was so many wonderful letters between Adams and his wife Abigail to draw upon. He dedicated his books to his own wife and said, “To my wife, through whom I know what Abigail meant to John.” Years later, Page’s life ended two days after his wife, Eloise died of kidney cancer. He had leukemia, but what was abundantly clear is that he couldn’t go on living without his beloved Eloise.
As we celebrate our founding fathers, take a moment to reflect on their legacy and how you too can contribute to carrying on that legacy, not just by watching fireworks, but by developing yourself as leader 24/7. I have developed a list of 5 ways (plus one bonus way) you can develop your everyday leadership skills so that you also are a leader 24/7. On my list are Drive for Learning, Appreciative Practices and a Commitment to Values, all lessons that I learned from the example of Page Smith.
I’d like it if you read the 5+1 ways here.
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Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach
Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach. Her doctoral work was completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values.
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Thanks, Lynn, for posting this on the fourth!
It was good to hear about Page Smith and what he contributed, and I was compelled to Google Abigail Adams and find out more about her.
Yes, a group of caring, compassionate and persevering individuals put a truly exceptional nation on its way, and I’m indeed grateful to them.
Stan, I am glad that my blog inspired you to google Abigail Adams! John Adams definitely would not have been the person that he was without her. If you haven’t seen the fine HBO series about John Adams based on David McCullogh’s book, you should definitely get it. You can get a great understanding of the woman that Abigail was from that. I love to know what nugget you found out from your google search!
Yes, the founders were a rare collection of politicians driven by principle and wisdom. And now, when our government is paralyzed by partisanship, it’s a tad reassuring to remember how bitterly they debated and compromised — a slave counted as a fractional human for electoral purposes and the nation’s capitol would be located in a Virginia marsh — to launch the enterprise. Hopefully, we’ll continue to muddle through.
It is true, they are a great example of how hard it is to reach consensus and also why, despite the challenge it is worth it, even if the nation’s capitol was located in a marsh!
The blog is very inspiring and message giving. Especially, it would definitely initiate the positive attitude and conquering spirit one could learn from such a great people.
Thanks for your comment, Sri. I am thrilled that the positive attitude and conquering spirit are attributes that were highlighted for you in my blog. I am a big believer in the importance of both!