Category Archives: Launching a Leadership Revolution

William “Billy” Mitchell’s Courageous Leadership

Leaders assault the status quo, and somehow just can’t stand to leave things the way they find them.  For true leaders, this comes from a deep sense of hunger that burns inside.  Often this yearning is extremely costly to the individual pushing for the change.    What might have been a comfortable existence is traded for the pursuit of a vision the leader sees more clearly than anyone else.  This, in short, is what makes him or her a leader; he or she sees further than others see, sooner than others see, and with more conviction.  And ultimately, the personal cost is worth it to the leader because of his or her strong belief in the outcome desired.  Whether ending in triumph, or flaming out in defeat, the leader is vindicated by the chase of the vision and the principles upon which he or she stands.  The conviction of the leader, backed by his or her courage to act on that conviction regardless of cost to self, is the stuff that makes the world go around.  It’s also what all of us admire when we are fortunate enough to get a glimpse of it.

Billy Mitchell

For just such a glimpse, let’s examine the life of aviation pioneer and advocate William “Billy” Mitchell. Mitchell saw his first military action as an infantryman in the Spanish-American war in Cuba in 1898. Later, he gave up prestige and promotion hopes to get involved in the United States’ infantile aviation efforts, and was at the center of many of aviation’s “firsts.”  During World War I Mitchell became the first U.S. officer to fly behind enemy lines.  He next became involved in a joint bombing effort between the French and the Americans which assembled the largest force of aircraft ever to amass up to that point.  Repeatedly, Mitchell was given organizational control and command of large scale joint-bombing efforts by his French allies: something pretty unusual and indicative of his leadership abilities. 

After the end of the Great War, Mitchell began campaigning for the creation of an independent branch of the U.S. military that would be focused strictly upon air power.  His ideas were radical and threatening and were fiercely resisted.  The army had thought air power should be subservient to its needs, because airplanes could provide cover to troops on the ground and tactical bombing ahead of troop movements.  The navy had claim to air power as well, needing planes to attack enemy shipping and provide visuals across the vast seas.  But William Mitchell saw further than the established bureaucrats in either branch of the military.  He foresaw the advent of airpower as preeminent, and certainly worthy of a single, autonomous branch of the U. S. military that would transcend control by either the army or the navy.

Mitchell’s campaign grew louder and more vehement, until he was called upon to prove his “wild” theories.  In a demonstration utilizing a German dreadnought captured during the war, Mitchell’s bombers sunk the great iron ship in about twenty minutes.  This was astounding to the large assortment of navy brass on hand to witness the event, and out of this demonstration ultimately came the development of the aircraft carriers that would be so critical to winning the war in the Pacific during World War II. 

These encouraging developments aside, Mitchell continued to push for his great vision of a stand-alone military branch that would control all forms of air power.  The harder Mitchell pushed for something he felt was so obvious, the more resistance he met.  Not only did he have to deal with skepticism and shortsightedness, but he also ran into commanders trying to protect their turf, pride, the “Not Invented Here Syndrome”, cost cutters, peace nicks, small thinkers, and commanders who wanted to have air power fall under their own control.  Mitchell didn’t play by the rules.  He wanted change.  He was upsetting the status quo.  He was attacking long-held paradigms and beliefs about the way things were supposed to be done.  He was preaching to the military establishment that had played a big part in winning the “war to end all wars” and was riding high on its success.  Finally, as with many a bureaucracy, the innovator had to be silenced.  Mitchell was demoted and transferred to a remote location in charge of a small corps.  But typical of a leader on a mission, Billy Mitchell was unable to stop there.  When his crusade fell on deaf ears, he took his story to the press.  This resulted in his court martial and conviction of insubordination.  Mitchell was given a suspension of five years without pay.  Mitchell resigned in protest instead, but continued his quest for an independent air force until his death.

According to author Alan Axelrod:

“Billy Mitchell was a leader ahead of his time, and he was a man willing to sacrifice his career for the sake of his country’s defense.  Virtually all of his doctrinal theories about the role of aviation in warfare would prove true – including his assessment (much ridiculed) that the navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands was vulnerable to a carrier-launched air attack, which, Mitchell predicted, would be made by Japan.  After his death, his major positions were vindicated, and he came to be considered the founding spirit of the U.S. Air Force.”

Billy Mitchell’s crusade to create a United States Air Force is a clear demonstration of the courage and conviction of a leader.  At great personal cost and ending in much frustration in his own life, Billy Mitchell pushed to the end for the vision in which he believed.  Mitchell was driven by what he could “see” long before it was seen by others.  Rare indeed are those who will act at such great cost for a cause that transcends their own personal peace and affluence.  Rare they may be, but history is rich with glimpses of individuals like Mitchell who have risked it all for what they believed was right.  May they be an inspiration to us all!    

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/11/william-billy-m.html.

Recommended Leadership Books

One of the most frequent questions I am asked when I am out speaking or at book signings is, “What other books do you recommend?”  Because there seems to be such a hunger for good books and worthwhile leadership material, I guess it can’t hurt for me to share a list of books that have had a big impact on my life.  Today I would like to limit that list to the top leadership books I have read in the past few years.  I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I did!  (The toughest part about doing this was paring it down to a small enough list to be manageable.  There is so much great material out there!) Here they are, in no particular order:

1.  Lincoln on Leadership, Donald T. Phillips

2. Courage, Gus Lee

3. The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle, James C. Hunter

4. The Anatomy of Peace, The Arbinger Institute

5. Wooden on Leadership, John Wooden

6. The Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley

7. It’s Your Ship, Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

8. The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey

9. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith

10. Leading With a Limp, Dan B. Allender

11. A Fish Out of Water, George Barna

12. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/recommended-lea.html.

The Surprising Leadership Example of Mark Twain

There are a preponderance of leadership examples to be taken from the annals of military conflict.  These are both interesting and instructional.  Perhaps the reason so many demonstrations of the principles of leadership are available from battles and wars is true leadership becomes most visible at times of extreme circumstances.  War is as extreme as it gets.  But most of us are not engaged in wars and battles, at least not of the military variety.  We can benefit from the examples of everyday people living everyday lives that utilize and implement the same leadership principles demonstrated by war heroes.

Mark Twain

One such example is Samuel Clemens, whose famous pen name became Mark Twain. Few would be quick to consider Twain as a leader.  In fact, a case could be made for calling him a coward: twice he fled the scene when faced with dangerous circumstances.  After causing a conflict with another man, Twain skipped town when threatened with a duel.  Also, many have speculated that when Twain went to Nevada with his brother it was largely to escape the American Civil War. But Mark Twain’s example is enriching precisely because he resists the stereotypical hero cast.  He was not brave or courageous in the physical sense, or influential in assembling teams of people aligned in some great common purpose.  But leadership and leadership principles are more profound and at the same time more subtle than the expected heroic examples.  Leadership is also about results, change, assaulting the status quo, having the determination and the individuality to express oneself sincerely in the face of opposition, and about persisting through trying circumstances.  And largely, leadership is about taking a group of people to a place where they have never been before.  These are precisely the things Mark Twain did.

Born in 1835, Mark Twain has been accused of living a life of profound “accidental” timing.  He came of age coincident with the great (but short-lived) steamboat era, and became one of its romantic captains. Twain was on hand as a speculator in Carson City just after silver was discovered there at the world famous Comstock Mines.  He experienced the Wild West when it was still wild; seeing gun fights, buffalo hunts, stage coach travel, and the Pony Express first-hand.  He had also seen slavery up close and personal.  His father in law was active in the Underground Railroad and helped Frederick Douglass escape.  Twain saw first-hand the birth of the American Red Cross, the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871, the beginning of the United States Income Tax, experienced some of the first oceanic steamship travel, was a participant on the first organized luxury tour in U. S. history, was on hand in the gallery to see the vote for the impeachment of president Andrew Johnson, and had the first private telephone in his city installed in his house. 

Examining the life of Mark Twain is like taking a tour around the globe and meeting all the people of caliber alive at that time.  He was personally acquainted with President U.S. Grant, and was instrumental in encouraging Grant to write his now famous memoirs.  Twain was friends with Artemous Ward, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William James, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Daniel Beard, the founder of the Boy Scouts.  He worked for Senator Stewart while the statesman drafted the fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Twain was on hand with Anson Burlingame and the first treaty of the United States with China.  Twain was instrumental in encouraging rich benefactors to give scholarship money to Helen Keller.  He met the original “Siamese Twins” Chang and Eng.  He introduced Winston Churchill at the Waldorf Astoria.  He dined with Teddy Roosevelt (who hated him), and played put-put golf with Woodrow Wilson.  Twain was friendly with Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, and the Prince of Wales (“Edward the Conqueror”, later King Edward VII).  Andrew Carnegie made his famous admonition to Mark Twain about “putting all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket,” commenting on Twain’s terrible history of speculative investing and diversification.  Twain knew Brigham Young, Jefferson Davis, Napoleon III, and stayed with Czar Aleksandr II, Emperor of Russia.  He was photographed by Matthew Brady, was friends with Frederick Douglass, and knew Horace Greeley the abolitionist and founder of the New York Tribune.  Twain knew P.T. Barnum of circus fame, and the famous British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, and he dined with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who would lead that country and the world into the first World War. 

Arguably, there has never been an American who was so intermingled with the trends and trend makers of his day as was Mark Twain.  As a writer, Twain could not have hoped for more exposure to material upon which to comment and be inspired.  Twain was on hand with a front row seat for most of the changes taking place in the new United States and around the world.  His personal contact with dying trends and his direct involvement in new ones gave him a unique perspective that found its way to his pen.  When Twain got involved in journalism the profession was just entering its own budding era.  Twain began writing just as America, an infant country struggling for eminence on the world’s stage, was finding its own voice.  Again, Twain was right in the middle of change.  He was one of the first writers to begin using recorded dictations, he turned in the first type-written manuscript to a publisher, and he conducted some of the world’s first newspaper interviews.

But Twain’s involvement with trends new and old, his familiarity with the great names of his day, and his extensive experiences are not really the sum and substance of his leadership example.  The reason Mark Twain is noteworthy as a leader is because of the changes he himself brought about in the American literary voice.  He was a daring pioneer and a “first of firsts.”  He was one of the first to write dialogue phonetically as it is actually spoken.  He was one of the first to give slaves, children, southerners, and a wide range of dialects their true voice.  His writing wasn’t seen as proper and didn’t follow the unwritten rules that were expected at the time.  He enraged literary critics with his style because it was seen as lowly and disgusting.  Mark Twain, whose works seem so harmless to our standards today, was nearly scandalous in his own.  Twain’s new territory was the staking out of honesty in writing.  He wrote it the way it actually was, without bowing to pretense or aristocratic rules, and he wrote to a country about a country at a time when that country was itself coming of age.  According to biographer Ron Powers, “. . . the American Vandal was more than the sum of these parts.  In his hard-headed, bull-in-a-china-shop way, he was the ambassador of a newly industrialized, populous, and therefore consequential America – no longer the familiar apologist for a backwoods culture sneered at by the French and English and Italian aristocracy, but the envy of all these, and damned proud of it.” Twain’s leadership was evident in the way he showed America to itself.

Toward the end of his life, Twain got even more outspoken, especially against the tendencies in America toward imperialism.   Also, according to Powers, “Mark Twain was virtually alone among journalists in his reportage of Jewish Europeans as caught in the pincers of rising nationalist antagonisms.”  When warned of how his new tirades might erode the goodwill he had accumulated through years of being America’s top entertainer, Twain responded:

“I can’t understand it!  You are a public guide & teacher, Joe, & are under a heavy responsibility to men, young & old; if you teach your people – as you teach me – to hide their opinions when they believe their flag is being abused & dishonored, lest the utterance do them & a publisher a damage, how do you answer for it to your conscience?  You are sorry for me; in the fair way of give & take, I am willing to be a little sorry for you.”

Powers wrote, “The publishing industry could not handle his [Twain’s] strongest ideas.” Twain himself wrote, “Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take to the pen and pour them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside: then all that ink and labor are wasted, because I can’t print the result.”  Leaders assault the status quo.  They can’t stand to leave things the way they found them.  Leaders also deal in reality, no matter what other people think.  They are driven by what they believe and have to do what they feel called to do.  And leaders must be true to their conscience.  They don’t compromise their principles; they stand for what they believe in, even if it is costly.  Leadership is also about getting results.  Here again, Twain’s example shines through.  Mark Twain changed the face of American literature, entertainment, and the public image of the new country itself. 

Each of us must understand that we are all called upon to lead at some point, and probably many points, in our lives.  We will be called upon in big ways and small. We need not be military leaders involved in colossal struggles.  We need not have positions of power or authority.  We simply need to follow our convictions, respond to the inner call to greatness, take a hold of whatever it is God has seen fit to assign us to do, and do it with all honesty and might.  Confronting brutal reality, assaulting the status quo, and doing that which is in us to do, are the hallmarks of leadership available to everyone.  May the Mark Twains of our history inspire us to lead in whatever capacity in which we find ourselves. 

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/the-surprising-.html.

Creative Leadership: Walt Disney

Walt Disney the school boy was not a good student.  He would just as soon doodle and draw cartoons in class as learn something.  But, like most leaders, he was a big reader and a hard worker; holding down several odd jobs at once while still young.  His earliest dream was to become a cartoonist.  He sent dozens of submissions to publishers only to receive rejection after rejection. 

                While still in his teens he formed a small company that produced cartoons.  He hired some cartoonists to execute on his many good ideas.  The little firm prospered for a while and then floundered.  He tried again and lost again.  But along the way he was gaining experience and beginning to surround himself with the type of capable people who would share his vision and help bring his ideas into American folklore.

                At one point in his early, lonely, broke years, Disney was offered a secure job at a jelly factory.  To the disbelief of his family, Disney refused.  He wasn’t interested in a secure job.  He had a vision for being involved in the entertainment industry and he knew his talents pointed him in that direction.  With the drive and determination common to all great leaders, Disney refused to sell his dreams short for the lure of security.

                Walt Disney dreamed continually about making it in the entertainment industry.  Finally he came to realize that the only way he could do it would be through cartoons.  In his relentless efforts to achieve this, Walt Disney learned a lesson every leader must learn; how to be tough.  In the words of biographer Bob Thomas, “It wasn’t enough to be an original and creative artist, Disney learned; survival in the film business required a jungle toughness.”

                Disney was also no great administrator, but he had a knack for surrounding himself with talent.  For one, his brother Roy proved an invaluable partner, financial wizard, and loyal supporter throughout Walt’s career.  Ub Iwerks was perhaps the nation’s top cartoon talent, and Walt teamed up with Iwerks to create Disney’s most timeless character, Mickey Mouse.  Most of all, Walt Disney had that key leadership ingredient of being able to get others caught up in his visions.  He would enthuse about this idea or that until a whole room of artists were infected with his picture of what could be.  Then Disney would allow their individual creative efforts to flourish toward the completion of his vision.  Bob Thomas said, “Walt was developing one of his most valuable traits: the ability to recognize a man’s creative potential and force him to achieve it.”

                Walt Disney was also an extremely hard worker.  He was often the first in the office and the last to leave.  As a matter of fact, his late night tours of his artists’ desks became legendary, and artists would often leave their most prized unfinished work out at the end of the day in hopes that Disney would see them and make comment.  More often than not, he did.  The secret of Disney’s hard work was his passion.  He would get onto an idea or vision for something and pour himself into with everything he had.  Many, many times throughout his storied (no pun intended) career, Disney would pay no attention to finances or the monetary risks of a project.  He was committed to making real the vision he carried in his mind’s eye and no price was too big or risky to bring it about.  It was this boldness, this passion, this contagious enthusiasm that was the source of his ability to inspire so many talented people in his organization.  Walt Disney once said, “I happen to be an inquisitive guy, and when I see things I don’t like, I start thinking, why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?”

                In 1931 Walt Disney suffered a nervous breakdown.  He had been repeatedly double-crossed in a cut-throat industry.  He had lost many talented artists to competing studios.  He had been continually wracked by financial problems.  His ideas had been stolen by cheap imitators, and, just like any leader, he had his skeptics.  Bob Thomas wrote, “Many worries and the stress of leading a crew of volatile, talented artists through uncharted territory began to wear on Walt.”  And in a statement that clearly demonstrates Disney’s inability to rest on his achievements, Thomas wrote, “He had been pushing himself and his animators hard, seeking greater quality in the cartoons instead of coasting on his already substantial reputation.”  But Disney’s eternal optimism soon revived him and he was as driven as ever to make his dreams come true.  Walt Disney, said those that were close to him, seemed to have a strong sense of his mortality.  This weighed on him heavily and drove him in a race against time to accomplish all the work he wanted to do.

                In all, Disney’s career spanned almost the entire entertainment industry.  His name became synonymous with quality family entertainment.  He was a pioneer in animated short films, then the first to add sound to a short animation.  He was the first to produce animation in color, and again the first to produce a full-length animation film. He progressed to live-action movies, nature films, and pioneered children’s programming on television.   And as a crescendo to an already staggering list of achievements, he pioneered the world of outdoor entertainment by creating Disneyland and launching Disney World before his death. 

In the late 1960’s Disney was invited to the White House by President Lyndon Johnson and awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.  The citations contained the words, “Artist, impresario, in the course of entertaining an age, Walt Disney has created an American folklore.”  What the citation could have just as easily said was that Walt Disney was a leader.  Disney’s leadership ability was the engine behind his success.  He was a man driven by his dreams and his vision for how things should be.  He could not accept the status quo and felt called to change things for the better.  He worked very hard throughout his life, not even slowing down when his success and fame eclipsed him.  Disney was optimistic and perseverant, and he knew how to spread his enthusiasm to others of higher talent in specific areas.  Risk taking was natural to him, to the point where he didn’t even worry about the risk because he could “see” the vision so strongly he just knew he could get there.  At several points during his life he said no to the temptations of complacency or security, always pushing forward for the next big dream.  He would master one form of entertainment and then move onward to the next. 

From a young man learning to lead a small group of intractable artists, to an elder scion of industry leading millions through a magical world of make-believe, Walt Disney was an excellent picture of leadership.   Perhaps his brother Roy said it best, “My brother Walt and I first went into business together almost a half century ago. And he was really, in my opinion, truly a genius – creative, with great determination, singleness of purpose and drive; and through his entire life he was never pushed off his course or diverted to other things.”

Today, the name Disney connotes many things.  For most, it is a place where they dream of taking that special family vacation someday before the kids grow up.  For many, it is cartoon characters and Mickey Mouse and family movies.  But for everyone, the name is familiar.  Disney’s world of creations continues to grow and prosper to incredible proportions long after the death of the man who envisioned it all.  The story of Walt Disney should be an inspiration to anyone who cherishes the hope that one person can make a difference.  Because Disney and its parks, characters, cruise lines, television network, and brand images are an everyday part of our lexicon, most people don’t stop to think that the Disney empire was once non-existent, not so long ago.  What is common everyday reality for us was once a dream in one man’s mind.  Success on such a staggering scale should make each of us stop and think about what special gifts we have, what dreams we harbor, and what contributions we can make.  Driven by those visions, we unlock our potential with the keys of leadership, first leading ourselves away from complacency and security and toward our dreams, then leading others by contagion in the same direction.  Over time, the ripple effect of our leadership, like that of Walt Disney, can be immeasurable.

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/creative-leader.html.

Historical Example Captain Samuel C. Reid

One of the key premises in the art of leadership is that one person can make a difference. In a complicated world, with forces for change coming at us from seemingly all directions, it is easy to feel small and incapable.  It is easy to shrug off our highest aspirations and think, “What’s the use?”  This becomes doubly tempting when meeting challenges, and when our best intentions turn out to be more difficult, and more work than we expected.  At that point it is more critical than ever to realize that we as an individual have enormous power to not only influence the course of events around us, but to have a major and lasting effect on the impact of those events.            

                In the long rich history of the age of fighting sail, when complicated wooden warships plied the oceans, privateers were civilian sailing vessels that had been given governmental approval to make war at will upon enemy shipping.  Privateers could thus both claim patriotism and wealth while inflicting pain on an enemy country.  Privateering was very popular and very effective; in a way, it was the nautical version of today’s guerilla warfare, with a little bit of mercenary flavor thrown in. 

                In the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the infantile United States, a war many called the second war of independence, American privateers wreaked havoc upon the mighty British.  As a matter of fact, their efforts against the crown were far more successful than those of the relatively small American navy.  Author John Lehman wrote, “During the War there were 513 registered privateers and they took about 2,300 British merchant ships compared to 165 taken by the Navy.”  That means that the average American privateer captured or destroyed more than four enemy ships each.

                One of these privateers was captained by Samuel C. Reid.  His story provides a compelling snapshot from history that supports the premise that one individual can make a difference.  In fact, Reid’s story makes the case that one man’s efforts can have a staggering impact, with ramifications that are unforeseen at the time.

                Reid was captain of the General Armstrong, a schooner mounting only nine guns and having a crew of about ninety men.  Reid and his crew were able to break out of the British blockade of New York in a dead calm by pumping water on the sails to capture all possible wind, and by towing the ship with row boats.  He sailed to Fayal harbor in the Azores, and arrived just before a British squadron of three battle ships of varying size and armament.  The squadron was on its way to New Orleans with British troops to assist in the attack on the city.  First, however, seeing the General Armstrong in Fayal, the squadron decided to violate Portuguese neutrality and attack the American privateer. 

                The first wave of attack was several small boats from the British squadron.  When they failed to take the General Armstrong, the next attack went in at midnight with fourteen boats and 600 men.  Many of these attackers were successful in climbing aboard the General Armstrong. The battle was fierce hand-to-hand combat and casualties were high, and Reid himself killed the commander of the raid.  Once again, the British attack was repulsed.  Expecting another attempt, Reid moved his ship closer to the shore so he could use the guns from both sides of his ship on one side.  He cut new gun ports in the hull and aimed his full complement of weapons seaward.  In the early morning the smallest of the three ships in the British squadron attacked, primarily because it could come in closest to shore without running aground.  In a raging battle of the cannon from both ships, the British ship was forced to back off.  At this point the British had had enough.  They next maneuvered their largest battleship in the squadron, a full 78 gun man-of-war, into position to bombard the tiny American privateer.  Reid countered by setting fire to his own ship and sinking her rather than letting the enemy capture her.  His men escaped to safety ashore.  In the entirety of the engagement, some four distinct skirmishes, the British suffered 34 killed and 68 wounded, with the Americans 2 killed and only 7 wounded.  The little ship had held out remarkably well against superior fire power and numbers.  In a gesture illustrative of the chivalry between officers occasionally found in wars in those times, the British Consulate on shore invited Captain Reid to tea where he was given three cheers by the surviving British officers for his bravery and gallantry in the battle.

                Reid was only doing his duty.  He took responsibility to command his tiny schooner to the best of his ability and put up a stiff resistance to a fierce enemy under hopeless odds.  His crew fought viciously and creatively in a complicated warship under dangerous conditions; proof of good leadership and unity.  As a leader, Captain Reid did was what required, when it was required, to the best of his ability. 

                What Captain Reid could not have foreseen, however, as is true with many in leadership, is the enormous ramifications of his gallant stand at the Battle of Fayal.  According to John Lehman, “Reid had delayed the British expedition against New Orleans for ten days.”  The extra time allowed General Andrew Jackson to arrive on scene in New Orleans, take martial control of the panicked town, assemble his patch-work army of pirates, militia, and escaped slaves, and prepare his defenses.  What resulted was the most lop-sided battle of the entire war as the British were badly defeated, and a peace that brought the hostility between the United States and her former motherland to an end forever.  The Battle of New Orleans could have ended differently.  Andrew Jackson later told Captain Reid himself, “If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have been no Battle of New Orleans.”  Had that happened, the tentative treaty that had been signed to end the war most likely would have been revoked or at least amended less favorably to the United States, keeping the door open to future hostility.  Instead, it sealed the deal on a lasting peace between the two nations. 

                The story of Captain Reid and his stand at the Battle of Fayal clearly illustrates the difference that one person can make.  How easy would it have been for Reid to simply flee from the enemy in his tiny, much faster ship? How easily could he have fired a few shots in defense, as was customary in hopeless situations, and then “haul down his colors” and surrender?  Or, he could have simply abandoned his ship and escaped to shore.  But Reid chose to stand and fight, and his men with him.  That simple decision, and their gallant execution of it, made a huge difference on the world’s stage.  That is the kind of far-reaching affect that one person can have.  That is the difference leadership makes.  If Reid hadn’t stood, if his men hadn’t fought, if they hadn’t delayed the British, then General Jackson might not have been ready, the British may have prevailed in the Battle of New Orleans, and all of Western history would be different.  But they stood.  Reid led.  And it made all the difference.

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/historical-exam.html.

Benjamin Franklin’s Leadership Example

The name Benjamin Franklin is so familiar it is almost a cliché.  School children are introduced to him as the gray haired man flying a kite in a thunderstorm, or as the contemplative elder statesman sitting in the Pennsylvania State House and advising upon the drafting of the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution.  Franklin is one of the most famous founding fathers, and after more than two centuries, there are still those who have trouble understanding why.  As author Gordon S. Wood wrote of Franklin’s return to North America after the signing of the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, “When he arrived in 1785, his fellow Americans did not know what to make of him.  They knew he was an international hero, along with Washington the most celebrated American in the world, but they were not quite sure why.  He had not led the revolutionary movement like John Adams.  He had not written a great revolutionary document like Jefferson.  He had not led armies like Washington.” 

When writing about or discussing leadership, it is relatively easy for military and political figures to be examined as examples.  The reason for this is that their lives are lived very much in conflict and battle, and the principles of leadership that apply to “every day” life are seen in broader relief in the context of extreme and dangerous circumstances.  This is why so many leadership books, including our own, are filled with generals and statesman.  Examining Benjamin Franklin as an example of leadership principles is not so straight forward, however.  Seeing his genius in the leadership category requires a little deeper inspection.  But the reward for this extra effort is one of the richest and most motivating examples of leadership one can find.

 

The life of Benjamin Franklin can best be summarized by breaking it into three distinct phases.  In the first phase, Franklin was a businessman.  As most everybody knows, he rose from obscure and humble beginnings (a much larger barrier to advancement in those days than it is in ours) to become what we would today call a multi-millionaire.  He worked hard, had a great mentor and patron, and learned his trade (printing) well.  He became not just a wealthy printer but a sophisticated entrepreneur.  He was involved in the establishment of over eighteen paper mills, owned an extensive portfolio of rental properties, was a creditor to other business owners, and was involved in setting up other print shops on the model of his first one in Philadelphia.  He also became a famous writer during this same time.  He used his abilities and efforts to establish businesses that he could safely leave to the conduct of others, and by the age of forty seven he was free to pursue other things.  In the second phase of his life, Franklin was a philosopher and scientist.  Although he had been sent to England as the colony of Pennsylvania’s ambassador to the English throne, his passion was scientific thought and discovery.  He became an esteemed member of the Philosophical Society in London and was world famous for his real contribution to the understanding of electricity.  He also invented the Franklin stove, bifocals, an instrument for which Mozart created a musical score, and an almost endless list of contraptions.  During this time, of course, he continued to write. It was in this second phase of Franklin’s life that he was the most happy.  He was famous, well-respected among his peers, dined with Kings and Lords all over Europe, and was friends with most of Europe’s esteemed minds of the day.  He fully expected to live out the rest of his life in England, and couldn’t even be compelled to sail home for the marriage of his only son, the birth of his grandchild, or the waning health of his wife.  But circumstances and his own convictions thrust him into the third phase of his life; that of a patriot and American “founding father.”  He would sail home in 1775 and become one of the most passionate patriots in the Revolution. 

It is in the dramatic circumstances of Franklin’s transition from the second phase of his life into this third phase that most demonstrates his leadership ability.  What transpired would change his life, and the course of American history, forever.

Franklin was slow to comprehend the forces of change that were swirling in the North American colonies.  The violent reaction in North America to the 1765 Stamp Act shook caught him by surprise.  He had trouble understanding the feelings of repression brewing back home.  But an event took place that brought him into the revolutionary spirit with fervor. 

By this time he was not only the representative of Pennsylvania to the English government, but of several others as well, including Massachusetts.  Somehow a pack of private letters from the Massachusetts lieutenant governor Thomas Hutchinson got into Franklin’s hands.  In the letters, Hutchinson was imploring the British government to take more control of the colonies so that they would remain dependent on England.  Franklin sent these letters to officials in Massachusetts with the intent of demonstrating that the problems with the mother country were not official English policy, but the machinations of a few bad apples such as Hutchinson. In the words of Wood, “This was a gross miscalculation, for the letters he sent to Massachusetts only further inflamed the imperial crisis.  Contrary to much conventional wisdom, Franklin was not at all a shrewd politician or a discerning judge of popular passions, certainly not of the prerevolutionary passions of these years.”   The letters were printed in Boston newspapers.  Word soon got back to England about the Hutchinson letters and Franklin’s involvement in the affair finally became public once Franklin stepped forward and admitted to his involvement in order to stop a duel between others involved in accusations.  Franklin firmly defended himself by saying that the letters weren’t private, but from public officials about public matters.  As author H.W. Brands wrote,

“If any in England expected repentance [from Franklin] they certainly did not get it.  Franklin’s assertiveness condemned him the more in the eyes of those who considered Boston a nest of sedition and judged all who spoke for Boston abettors of rebellion.  Until now Franklin – the famous Franklin, scientist and philosopher feted throughout the civilized world – had been above effective reproach.  His admission of responsibility for transmitting the purloined letters afforded his foes the opening they had long sought.”

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts House had petitioned the government in England to remove Hutchinson from his position.  Franklin was called to the Privy Council hearing on the matter.  The opposing counsel was not just a lawyer, but a man named Alexander Wedderburn, the solicitor general.  Wedderburn was feared for his acidic and combative style and his lack of scruples when it came to his own political ambition.  Brands wrote, “Franklin had hoped to argue for Hutchinson’s dismissal on political grounds; the appearance of Wedderburn indicated that the government intended to mount a legal – and personal – counteroffensive.  Moreover, the target of the counteroffensive would not be Massachusetts but Franklin.”  Seeing this, Franklin asked for legal representation and was granted three weeks before the Privy Council would reconvene.  It is here where Franklin, normally the master of timing, became its victim.  Between the first and second Privy Council meetings, the Boston Tea Party took place.  This event shocked London and confirmed for most that the inhabitants of Boston were rebels, making Hutchinson look like a heroic defender of the British interests in a hostile environment. Furthermore, and bad news for Franklin, the Boston Tea Party had outraged officials in London, and Franklin was the on hand to feel the brunt of their wrath.

The second Privy Council meeting was a public spectacle, and very unlike normal, was overwhelmingly well attended.  The large hall, called the “Cock Pit,” was filled with dukes and viscounts and sirs and members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister.  Forgetting any pretense of the purpose of the original meeting, solicitor general Wedderburn launched into a tirade against Franklin that was so severe, so slanderous, that most of it was deemed unfit for print.  He attacked Franklin’s character, his intelligence, his loyalty, his reputation, and made statements such as, “I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man . . . .  He has forfeited all the respect of societies and of men.”  As the diatribe continued, the audience laughed and jeered at Franklin’s expense.  Franklin sat motionless and silent, refusing to change even his facial expression.  Wedderburn continued by blaming the rebellious colonies on Franklin by saying, “these innocent, well-meaning farmers, which compose the bulk of the [Massachusetts] Assembly,” were not responsible for the rebellion.  Instead Franklin was the “first mover and prime conductor, the actor and secret spring, the inventor and first planner.”  This was quite a charge in itself, since Franklin hadn’t even been there in years! 

Franklin maintained his composure.   Wedderburn continued, feeding off the growing approval of the crowd, getting louder and more belligerent.  On and on he went.  Although his expression betrayed his feelings, Franklin grew hotter and hotter. He sat rigid and frozen, however.  Eye witness Edward Bancroft wrote, “The Doctor was dressed in a full dress suit of spotted Manchester velvet and stood conspicuously erect without the smallest movement of any part of his body.”  Wedderburn continued for over an hour, and when he had finally finished, Franklin refused to speak. 

Two weeks later Franklin was still fuming.  He was angrier for the public principles violated than for his own sake.  He wrote to a friend,

“When I see that all petitions and complaints of grievances are so odious to government that even the mere pipe which conveys them becomes obnoxious, I am at a loss to know how peace and union is to be maintained or restored between the parts of the empire.  Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions.  If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? And who will deliver them? Where complaining is a crime, hope becomes despair.”

Following the events in the Cock Pit, the government moved to remove Franklin from his long-held and prestigious position of deputy post master.  According to Brands, “Such action was discreditable in itself; it was even more pernicious in its prospect.  Appointments to the post office . . . were being held hostage to adherence to the policies of whatever ministry happened to hold power.”  In other words, disagree with those in power, and they would use their power to break you.  It was a classic case of “shoot the messenger.”  But the English government didn’t stop there.  It immediately passed the Boston Port Act, effectively closing Boston down to commercial trade.  This outrage was followed soon thereafter by the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act.  These acts would come to be called the “Intolerable Acts,” and would represent a point of no return in the conflict.  In the following weeks the colonies began sending delegates to an emergency continental convention. 

To Franklin’s credit, he hung around London for some time afterwards, and used all his skills and connections to get motions into Parliament attempting to reverse the path toward war with the colonies.  Two of these motions became official, and both were defeated.  Regarding the bullheaded charge of the officials in the English government down the path toward war, Edmund Burke said, “A great empire and little minds go ill together.”

Finally, having lost all hope of finding cooler heads to prevail, Franklin sailed for North America.  Wood wrote, “Franklin had had his deepest aspirations thwarted by the officials of the British government, and he had been personally humiliated by them as none of the other revolutionaries had been.”    The Franklin that stepped ashore in North America was a vastly different man that the one that had departed so many years before.  This Franklin was a man on a mission, with a clear view of how things really stood with mother England.  He had been there.  He had seen it for himself.  He had exhausted every bit of self control and diplomacy he could muster in the cause of maintaining harmony and justice between the two sides.  And he had suffered personally for his attempts.

In the decade to follow, Franklin would be as instrumental in the success of the War for Independence as anyone.  He would spend eight years in France as ambassador to King Louis XVI.  He would leverage his international fame to garner good will and connections.  He would hone his “folksy American” image to further his objectives.  He would befriend the high-born, the nobles, and the many courtiers of Louis’ court.  He would patiently and persistently build a bridge of trust between himself and the French government.  And finally, after years and years of painstaking effort, managing the squabbling ambassadors the colonies sent to help him, Franklin would accomplish his coup de grace.  He would forge an alliance with the mighty French government on behalf of the fledgling colonies.  The day he signed the former papers of alliance with England’s only worthy rival, Franklin showed up wearing the same exact suit he had worn that day years before in the Cock Pit.  He had not forgotten.  He had gotten the final laugh.  According to Wood, “[Franklin] was the greatest diplomat America ever had.  Not only did he bring the monarchy of Louis XVI into the war on behalf of the new Republic, but during the course of that long war he extracted loan after loan from an increasingly impoverished French government.  No other American could have done that.”  The money and munitions given by the French, followed by troops and finally ships, were irreplaceable in the colonial victory in the Revolutionary War.  Without such support, Washington and his battered troops and Congress and its empty coffers would never have made it.   

In the broad swoop of this story the leadership lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin are numerous.  First of all, he reversed his position on the rebellion growing in America when new information presented itself.  Next, he risked his reputation and world renown, and even a secure financial government post, by getting involved in the politics of the colonies’ unrest.  He handled himself with dignity under outrageous circumstances, and didn’t allow his personal pain prevent him from making further overtures of peace.  But once he saw the truth for what it was, he became a fervent champion of its cause.  As a true leader, he could not stand to leave the status quo the status quo.  Injustice was wrong, and no amount of personal prestige or comfort would be enough to make him “play it safe.”  Franklin was also patient, and never lost sight of the big picture, working steadily and methodically for years to accomplish his master stroke.   To use military terminology, Franklin kept his view at the high “campaign” level, rather than get distracted at the detailed “battle” level.  If leadership is influence, Franklin had droves of it: he found his way through a complicated French society and influenced a monarchy to support a rebellion attempting to overthrow another monarchy.  That’s influence.  If leadership is having vision, Franklin was a giant.  Arriving back in the colonies in 1775, most historians agree he was among the first to realize that it was independence or nothing.  While others clamored for middle ground and appeasement Franklin counseled whole hearted resistance.

In the end, Benjamin Franklin is noteworthy for so many things he is almost an intimidating figure peering through history at the rest of us as though we could and should do more.  But towering above his wide range of accomplishments is the legacy of freedom and independence he helped usher into existence.  His greatest achievement did not come from his scientific mind, or his inventive tendencies, or his philosophical wisdom.  Franklin’s greatest contribution came from his role as a leader.  Anyone studying leadership and aspiring to utilize God’s gifts to the fullest extent would be wise to study his example. 

This article was originally posted at https://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/benjamin-frankl.html.

Hunger as a Discipline

The following excerpt was taking from Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward’s New York Times Best-seller, Launching a Leadership Revolution

Those who take active responsibility to foster their motivation on a regular basis will outperform those who do not. It is the responsibility of the leader to keep him or herself hungry on a regular basis. Napoleon Hill, author of the world-famous book Think and Grow Rich, said, “One must realize that all who have accumulated great fortunes first did a certain amount of dreaming, hoping, wishing, desiring, and planning before they acquired money.”

All of leadership starts with hunger. At any point in time when the leader is not hungry, the leader is not functioning as a leader. This may sound radical, but it is true. Remember, a leader takes people somewhere. The moment the leader is not moving, the leader is not leading. And it takes ambition to keep the leader moving.

Picture success as a road that leads to your dreams:

LLR

Along each side of the road are shoulders. Often the shoulders of roads are comprised of gravel. If a driver inadvertently runs onto the gravel, the sound serves as a warning that a course correction is required to resume traveling safely on the road. Conversely, sometimes that same gravel can grip the wheels of the vehicle and pull it from the road into the ditch.

On the left shoulder is comfort. Comfort is fine in small doses and in certain areas of life, but, like gravel, it can also serve as a warning. Remember, ambition flourishes in discontent with the status quo. Discontent and comfort cannot coexist. If a leader becomes too comfortable, ambition will die, and the soft gravel of comfort can pull him or her down into the Ditch of Complacency. Complacency is defined by Webster as “self satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Complacency pulls a leader from the road of success and halts all travel toward his or her dreams, as when a car is stuck in a ditch.

There is another danger in traveling too close to the Shoulder of Comfort: opposing traffic. Most people in life are looking for the easy road. They want comfort and will pay the price of mediocrity to get it, so they rush toward it like cows to the barn at feeding time. If a leader attempts to lead from a position of comfort, he or she will run smack into that mass of traffic heading in the other direction away from dreams and toward mediocrity.

Leaders, however, shun comfort and seek excellence instead. They subscribe to the theory held by author Al Kaltman: “Without meaningful work, life stinks.” They travel down the right lane in the diagram and away from oncoming traffic. The right lane is never crowded. There always seems to be a shortage of leaders but a plethora of people heading the other way. This is one thing that makes a leader so special. Also notice that being a leader means traveling close to the Shoulder of Frustration. In fact, this is the mark of any true leader. Being a leader is a study in managed frustration. How can one have ambition for a brighter tomorrow without being frustrated at the current set of realities? How can a leader be at war with the status quo and not be frustrated at the same time? The answer, of course, is that no leader can. Any real leader traveling the Road of Success toward his or her dreams will encounter frustration along the journey. Frustration can be healthy, but just like the shoulder on the other side of the road, this gravel of frustration presents a trap. Too much frustration can be a warning to the leader that his or her attitude is dipping and could pull the leader down into the Ditch of Discouragement. Discouragement is a showstopper because it robs the leader of hope. Without hope, the leader is trapped in the Ditch of Discouragement and makes no further progress toward his or her dreams.

CB quote pic 4

The only way to stay away from oncoming traffic, the Shoulder of Comfort, and the Ditch of Complacency—and the only way to travel near the Shoulder of Frustration but clear of the Ditch of Discouragement—is to focus straight ahead on the dreams in front of you. Having a dream focus keeps a leader safely on the Road to Success. The best way to stay focused is to manage that hunger.

So staying hungry is actually a discipline. Webster defines discipline as “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties.” Hunger is certainly a mental faculty; notice that it needs training, molding, and perfecting. True leaders understand this and take the necessary steps on a regular basis to provide their hunger with the proper care and feeding. Many times, leaders don’t need to know more about what is to be done; they just need to find more leverage for themselves to do what they already know how to do.

(Posted by Kristen Seidl, on behalf of Chris Brady)