by Michael Holland

Reading well-written biographies provides a great opportunity to place myself in the life and times of the focus of the book.  Recently I read Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, a tremendous, deep dive into Jefferson’s use of all his talents.  Jefferson was exceptional at knowing how to distill complexity into a comprehensible message to reach the minds as well as the hearts of the larger world.

Here are three leadership learning moments from Jefferson’s life.

  • The Art of Soft Power – Jefferson was not directly confrontational.  He leveraged his broad knowledge, deep intellect, extreme curiosity, and engaging personality to open and maintain conversations with all people, allowing him the opportunity to gain tremendous insight.  Understanding people and their potential/likely reactions to complex scenarios allows leaders to guide decisions and influence outcomes.
  • Know Your Prime Directives – Staying the course with your vision over extended periods of time with unwavering force can be difficult.  Jefferson lived and led through the formation and launching of our nation.  Nothing was guaranteed, and forces of politics and nature were constantly creating headwinds.  Jefferson maintained his focus on the opportunity our country had with deploying and growing democracy while inciting individual liberty.  He intently focused decision-making on what would enable the long term success of the union and transcend the experiment of democracy to become the bedrock of democracy.  Great leaders see the big picture and stay the course.
  • Lead Well When Called Upon – At the ripe age of 33, Jefferson was asked to compose the draft for our Declaration of Independence.  Under the threat of treason and the contentious editing and verbal debate from young, rebellious, nation-forming leaders, he enabled the completion of a transformative document that sparked the birth of our country.  Great leaders step up and play the roles they need to play to enable transformation.

Jefferson wasn’t perfect, and he did have many flaws.  But the trend line of his leadership through decades was positive and is still impactful today. Recognize that you aren’t perfect but that you are living in great times, and determine today how you will lead well to improve your trend line.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What are some actionable steps you could take to improve your trend line according to the leadership learning moments from Jefferson’s life?
  • When was the last time you read an inspiring biography? Choose one, then try to find at least three “leadership learning moments” from the subject’s life that you can apply to your own.