[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
- Teamwork Wins. Effective teams are greater than the sum of their parts.
- 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.
- 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.
- Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Successful leaders can focus their strengths on the goal.
- 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.
- 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.