Leadership Lessons from Benjamin Franklin

By | August 16, 2020

[August 16, 2020]  This article is the second in a new mini-series on leadership lessons from famous Revolutionary War heroes.  Today, I’m focusing on Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).  Franklin was one of a small group of American leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, leading the war for independence from Great Britain and building a new form of government.

We owe these Founding Fathers much for their leadership and vision.  I believe you will see in this narrative some of the very qualities we expect of leaders today.  Benjamin Franklin was known for his bifocals, the lightning rod, and the Franklin stove.  He founded many civic organizations, including Philadelphia’s first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin, philosopher, politician, scientist, inventor, diplomat

Franklin earned the title of “The First American” for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity.  He was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious.1

Without further ado, here are six leadership lessons from Benjamin Franklin:2

  1. Teamwork Wins. Effective teams are greater than the sum of their parts.
  2. Complex tasks often require collaborative teamwork. Some problems can be solved by individual genius, but many complex tasks require collaborate teams.  To do this means a leader must be persuasive and integrate and coordinate action.
  3. Develop a clearly defined, common goal. For any leader to succeed, one must embrace a quantifiable performance goal.  Leaders must state their purpose clearly, logically, but also appeal to deep emotions.
  4. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Successful leaders can focus their strengths on the goal.
  5. Use the best person for the task. Recognizing individual talent is a skill of effective leaders.  Franklin, for example, was a consummate politician and persuader.
  6. Rely on discussion and persuasion rather than authority. Senior leaders are particularly aware that they must deal with a diversity of leaders with many desires and wants.  Such leaders cannot be ordered around, but have to be treated with respect, persuasion, and convinced to follow.  Gaining their trust and confidence3 plays a crucial role.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin
  2. https://keplersreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/7-leadership-lessons-of-the-american-revolution-the-founding-fathers-liberty-and-the-struggle-for-independence-by-john-antal-2/
  3. https://www.theleadermaker.com/characteristic-2-building-trust-and-confidence/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from Benjamin Franklin

  1. Gil Johnson

    Gen. Satterfield, thanks for another in your new series on leadership lessons. Once you complete this series, please start another like it. For me, anyway, I like lists of things and this article provides it. I understand them better this way. I also agree that more should be written on the topic with more indepth coverage and explanation. ?

    Reply
    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Right comment. Yes, more on the topic would be appreciated. It’s too much to go into here in the forums.

      Reply
  2. Wesley Brown

    I agree with some of the others here that No. 2 is probably the most important but also likely the least likely to be understood. Another article on it would be of help. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for listening to us.

    Reply
  3. Doc Blackshear

    I will step out on a limb and say that all six of these from Benjamin Franklin are worthy leader lessons that should be taken for face value. They work. If you cannot do them all, then you cannot be a good leader, period. There is, of course, much more to being a leader but these are the keys to doing well in the long term.

    Reply
    1. Valkerie

      Yep, you’re right Doc. General Satterfield has once again nailed it.

      Reply
  4. Linux Man

    5. Use the best person for the task. Recognizing individual talent is a skill of effective leaders. Franklin, for example, was a consummate politician and persuader.
    Best of all six. Just my thinking. This is very hard to do but has the best outcome.

    Reply
  5. Dennis Mathes

    Well written, thanks. I will note, IMO, that #s 1,3, 4, and 5 are common leadership qualities that really don’t need much explanation. But 2 and 6, now they are worthy of further discussion. #2 in particular should have more on it. If possible, Gen. Satterfield, maybe you could add more here. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Dennis, well said. US Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote a book called Team of Teams. Gen. Satterfield wrote about the book here: https://www.theleadermaker.com/reading-list-update-34/
      Here is what Gen. Satterfield wrote about his issue: Creating great teams is only part of the solution, he tells us, we must be able to create a group or band (i.e., a team) of those great teams … thus the title of his book “team of teams”.

      Reply
    2. Kenny Foster

      Yes, good point but Willie is partly there by noting McChrystal’s book. Thanks guys. Team of Teams, yes, that is what I think Ben Franklin was talking about.

      Reply
      1. Harry B. Donner

        Kenny, spot-on comment. You are right and this is what separates junior from more senior (and experienced) leaders.

        Reply
  6. Doug Smith

    Good Sunday morning coming down to my kitchen and reading your newest article on Ben Franklin at my computer. Couldn’t be a better relaxing day. Thanks Gen. Satterfield. I would hope you keep up this series…very helpful to me and I hope to others as well.

    Reply
    1. Big Al

      …. I have my dog sitting beside me giving me a look of “I want a treat”… good to be alive today and learning just a tad bit more. What most folks don’t realize is that every tidbit of leadership they get from anywhere (easy from this site) means they are just that much better at their job and at life in general.

      Reply
      1. Newbie Yunger

        Dogs are great. I have a German Shepherd. She is the greatest thing in my life (besides my family, of course) and goes everywhere with me. Good comments so far today.

        Reply
  7. Stacey Borden

    Very good second article. These are of value to me personally. Keep up your series.

    Reply

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