Leadership Lessons From Our Founding Fathers

agentofchange buildingtrust establishingalliances founding fathers just cause law enforcement leadership lessons Jul 06, 2022

As we celebrate the nation's Independence Day this week, I began reflecting on the leadership the founding fathers of our country exhibited both to each other as well as their fellow countrymen. Remember, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, less than a 1/3 of the colonists wanted to officially "separate" from Great Britain. In fact, about as many were Loyalists as they were Patriots. The other 1/3 simply wanted to be left out of it altogether. 

Many years ago, I read both of author Douglas Murray's books on leadership. His first was Lincoln on Leadership followed by The Founding Fathers On Leadership. In each, Murray talks about the leadership characteristics used by these leaders during changing and turbulent times. Given what law enforcement has and is experiencing currently, I thought I might revisit some of those lessons and wanted to share just a few from the Founders on Leadership especially.  Murray talks about the individual traits of each as well as the skills each had to acquire to become effective leaders during turbulent times. I'd like to focus on 3 that I think are definitely appropriate to help current law enforcement leaders be effective leaders during this time.

First, be an agent of change. Each of the men (and women) we remember in history books showed a tremendous ability to inspire others to a just cause which we will discuss more in a moment. As an agent of change, they conveyed information; communicated orally and in writing the ideas that led to not only the Declaration of Independence, but the will to fight off the British Invasion to reclaim the colonies. Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson's ability to write the ideas they had read from the Enlightenment philosophers of their day and to pare it down to the common man's understanding made them agents of change. Sam Adams and Paul Revere were two who were capable creating the networks necessary to spread the message to the people at large. These are just a few examples. So, as leaders, especially in law enforcement, you must be the agents of change within your departments and agencies. You must find ways to get the ideas across about law enforcement that are positive and tell the good news about what law enforcement does everyday for your communities. Find ways to develop relationships within your communities; have officers and executive staff meet with local community groups; be active on social media promoting the good things that cops do everyday; and, use the power of the pen, write op eds in local papers that tell what IS happening in law enforcement. In other words, be proactive and show you are an agent of change. People will respect that and you will be surprised how many will follow you both inside and out of the organization.

Second, create a just cause. Every new movement in the right direction needs a just cause. What is your personal just cause and what is your organization's? The Founding Fathers knew that conveying to the common colonist the importance of self-determination was the key to getting them to rally around a just cause. With wording such as "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. As I stated in the Monday Motivation this week, those were truly revolutionary ideas among common people. To state clearly that they as commoners (or peasants) had rights that transcended governments or kings was a transformative concept that fundamentally changed the relationship between citizen and government. Similarly, it took articulate leaders like General Washington and others to rally these people to the cause. Without the ability to speak with both passion and conviction, many would have just thought it was another speech.

Thirdly, learn the ability to build trust and establish alliances. The Founders were some of the most intellectually-educated members of their society. But being educated didn't mean they could build a new nation alone. They had to have the ability to forge relationships and build trust just as Washington did with his soldiers and just as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams did with France. The ability to get the backing of France at that time was remarkable and took tremendous trust-building on their part. It's the same for today's leaders, especially in law enforcement. To lead during these turbulent times requires leaders willing to be vulnerable and transparent. In doing so, you gain the trust of your people and your communities while creating the environment to establish alliances within the community you serve.

There are many, many more qualities, traits and skills that our Founding Fathers had that led to their overall success. Each of these men built upon the innate traits they were born with and developed the skills needed to effectively motivate and transform thirteen British colonies into a nation of unified states. They carried with them an innate sense of destiny - that this was a destined time for them to act as leaders of people and that it was the right thing to do.

So, know that law enforcement IS a noble profession. That it is right to be a police officer in today's society and that you are a leader of these men and women who wear the blue and who defend citizens and go where others are fleeing. Be the leader that rallies these men and women to the just cause of being a true servant officer of your community. By being that agent of change, you will show that you are in the right place at the right time.

Have a great rest of this holiday week!


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