52 Books - Book 28
The inclination to teach leadership by studying the character traits of people who achieved something of significance is strong. On the surface, that works, but then eventually one uncovers uncomfortable flaws in nearly every great leader.
A good example is Thomas Jefferson. I had great admiration for Thomas Jefferson. I was inspired by his intellectual brilliance that shows up in the Declaration of Independence. On further study, I learned about the way he designed his home.
Finally I visited Monticello. At the time of my visit, much had been revealed about his relationship to slaves and the possibility that he fathered children with Sally Hemings. I was thankful that the organization, that is responsible for sharing the history of the home and its famous architect, chose to honor the lives of the persons who had been slaves under Jefferson’s care. But I was also deeply troubled. My version of Thomas Jefferson as a hero, someone to worship, had been viscerally shattered. Actually walking through the slave quarters and imagining their life was a painful physical experience but one I encourage all to encounter.
When I picked up this children’s book by Maira Kalman at the library, I wondered if the author would share the darker aspects of Thomas Jefferson’s life. She does. Here are a few lines:
The man who said of slavery, "This abomination must end" was the owner of about 150 slaves. The monumental man had monumental flaws.
Instead of examining the character traits of leaders, I propose we examine the leadership process. It can be applied no matter what brilliant traits or “monumental flaws” a leader brings to the process. In the case of Thomas Jefferson, he envisioned a more perfect government and was able to use his talent of writing to craft a document that still stands today as an eloquent vision for liberty. Some visions are so grand, as the vision that is expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that is takes many lifetimes to see the fulfillment of the vision. Enduring visions, like the belief in liberty for all, captures the hearts and minds of people beyond a leader’s lifetime or a country’s borders.
Every week during 2014 I look forward to sharing books that I am reading. The lens of the leadership process will be the filter for which I recommend books. Books are powerful vehicles for providing us with inspiration and new ideas.