Brian T. Flanagan | Authentic Leadership Educator

Leadership Dynamics


A new semester is well underway at Grand Valley, and I’m back in the swing of a “Leadership Dynamics” course I teach for the College of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration. I developed the course in 2010, and the first half is designed to follow the rich literature of leadership from the ancient world forward into our living memory — the literature of the Greatest Generation.

By that time, Western Civilization had drawn some very definite conclusions about what it meant to lead and what it meant to follow. In class, we use the vivid, visceral examples of Totalitarianism under Hitler and Stalin to examine some of those conclusions in their most extreme form.

We see “Great Men” and their “Primal Horde” advancing in a charismatic bond toward a 1000-year vision. We see the leader’s sure, firm hand and the follower’s willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of an abstract, ideological movement. We see the startling outcome of a mode of thinking that puts utopian ideals first and human dignity last.

Most of all, we see the need to reconsider key assumptions about leadership and followership, an effort we take up in the second half of the term.

You can take a look at our visual syllabus here, but I want to share — in this forum — the course description and my Twitter meeting summaries as the semester advances.

Without further ado, the course description I use in an effort to intrigue my undergrads and capture their attention:

This course will expose you to 2,500 years of dynamic thinking about leaders and leadership, from the classical world to the post-modern.

You will come to understand ten big ideas about leadership; ever-changing sources and deployments of authority; iterations of the leader’s and follower’s place in society; and the latest thinking on leader-follower synchronicity, pervasive leadership, and leaderlessness.

In the first half of the semester, special attention will be drawn to the challenges of modernity and ideas about leadership and followership that culminated in World War II totalitarianism — a watershed development that left us searching for new answers to age-old questions about human nature, interaction, and leadership.

In the second half, we will refocus on these questions and examine post-modern hypotheses rising out of the social, natural, and formal sciences.

Throughout, we will interact with the leadership canon and encounter numerous examples of leadership by men and women, living and dead.

We will see how dynamic ideas are put into practice in the real world — famously, infamously, and anonymously.


Long-suffering Portia

John and Abigail Adams met in the summer of 1759. John was 24 years old; Abigail 15.

They put off marriage for the sake of John’s studies, but through five years of courtship their eagerness increased. John wrote in his diary, “The Temper and Habits of stale Virginity, are growing upon her.” She is “a constant feast.”

Tender, feeling, sensible, friendly. A friend. Not an imprudent, not an indelicate, not a disagreeable word or action. Prudent, soft, sensible, obliging, active.

Abigail AdamsShe would become his Portia — the long-suffering Roman wife of Brutus, portrayed by Shakespeare as her husband’s most courageous advisor and confidant.

Abigail admired Portia’s strength during Brutus’s years abroad, so much so that she later adopted the heroine’s name as a pseudonym in letters to John.

John, for his part, addressed Abigail as his “Dearest Friend,” his “best, dearest, worthyest, wisest Friend, in this world.” She was indeed that, and more: his friend, his partner, his advisor, his compass, his bedrock.

They married on October 25, 1764, in a service officiated by her father, and they began a tremendously consequential life together.

Biographer David McCullough writes:

For Adams, life had been made infinitely fuller. All the ties he felt to the old farm were stronger now with Abigail in partnership. She was the ballast he had wanted, the vital center of a new and better life.

Abigail was beautiful. Artist Gilbert Stuart completed a portrait of Abigail in 1801 and commented on her beauty. He said he wished he could have painted her when she was a younger woman: “I should have had a perfect Venus.”

Abigail was brilliant — every bit her husband’s equal. Universally, her contemporaries commented on her intelligence, her wit, and her strong point of view in all things.

Abigail was wise. “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live,” she wrote to her son John Quincy.

It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.

She had good humor. To John’s “Catalogue” of her “Faults, Imperfections, and Defects” — in which he criticized her lackluster card-playing abilities; her bashfulness; her poor singing voice and posture; her incessant leg crossing, which “ruins the figure and the Air”; and her “Parrot-toed” stride — she responded only mildly:

Lysander must excuse me if I still persist in some of them, at least till I am convinced that an alteration would contribute to his happiness…. You know I think that a gentleman has no business to concern him self about the Leggs of a Lady….

She was a hard worker, rising at five in the morning and working often from dawn until dusk. “She did everything that needed doing,” McCullough writes. “All her life she would do her own sewing, baking, feed her own ducks and chickens, churn her own butter….”

She was ambitious for her husband. “You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator,” she wrote to John. “We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.”

In Boston, Abigail endured deadly epidemics and the dangers of war with the children, while John was in Philadelphia. She even witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. She wrote to John, “The constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we cannot eat, drink, or sleep.”

At home, Abigail did virtually all the parenting while John was abroad for the better part of a decade in Philadelphia and Europe. She dealt with the illnesses, the growing pains, the small rebellions, and the need for discipline. To her increasingly snobbish son John Quincy she wrote, “If you are conscious … that you possess more knowledge upon some subject than others of your standing,

reflect that you have had greater opportunities of seeing the world and obtaining a knowledge of mankind than any of your contemporaries. That you have never wanted a book but it has been supplied to you, that your whole time has been spent in the company of men of literature and science. How unpardonable would it have been in you to have become a blockhead.

Yet, in all their years of trial and separation, John and Abigail never lost their flame. “I have travelled with you over the wide Atlantick,” Abigail wrote to John during his treacherous voyage to France in their 14th year of marriage, “and [I] could have landed you safe with humble confidence at your desired haven….”

“If I were near,” John wrote to Abigail during his 61st year, “I would soon convince you that I am not above forty.”


Abigail Adams died in October 1818, one month shy of her 74th birthday. “Do not grieve, my friend — my dearest friend,” Abigail wrote to her husband shortly before she died. “I am ready to go, and — John, it will not be long.”

It would be nearly eight years before John died on the Fourth of July at the age of 90. The Atlas of Independence — the man of granite — lived a long and fruitful life — and a fortunate one.

He came of age in an age of revolution — one that by accidents of time and place found John Adams at its center. Without tremendous good luck in lineage, learning, and love, he could not possibly have summoned the powers necessary to rise to the challenge.

But rise he did, and how fortunate for the rest of us.


This is the fourth in a four-part series on the “Fortunate Son of Liberty — John Adams.”

Part I: “Fortunate Son of Liberty”
Part II: “Stout-hearted Atlas”
Part III: “The scythe and the mare”
Part IV: “Long-suffering Portia”

The scythe and the mare

John Adams had perhaps the most brilliant mind of the American founding generation. His good friend and fellow congressman Benjamin Rush claimed Adams possessed “more learning, probably, both ancient and modern, than any man who subscribed the Declaration of Independence.” He “saw the whole subject at a glance.”

He was an incessant reader, writes biographer David McCullough:

He read Cicero, Tacitus, and others of his Roman heroes in Latin, and Plato and Thucydides in the original Greek, which he considered the supreme language. But in his need to fathom the “labyrinth” of human nature, as he said, he was drawn to Shakespeare and Swift, and likely to carry Cervantes or a volume of English poetry with him on his journeys.

John AdamsAdams’s oft-quoted lesson for his son Johnny — “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket” — was one he learned over a lifetime of experience.

If Rush, Jefferson, Theodore Parker, and others of the era remembered Adams having peerless intellect and learning, it was not always so.


“He who ne’er learns his ABC, forever will a blockhead be.” Thus goes a line from Adams’s first text book, The New England Primer. He got his earliest education at home, but he got no joy from it. Adams had no ambition to further his education or go to college, wishing only to become a farmer.

He continued his education at Braintree’s Latin School, reading and reciting in Latin ad nauseam, learning grammar, discovering a few classics, and dabbling in rhetoric, logic, and arithmetic. All along, Adams slacked, daydreamed, underperformed, and grew impatient.

Finally, one day, he told his father he was prepared to quit school and become a farmer.

“A Farmer!” his father exclaimed, “I will show you what it is to be a farmer!”

“Early the following morning,” biographer John Ferling writes, “father and son descended into the marsh in pursuit of thatch.”

All day, under a hot sun, the two struggled through knee-deep mud, stooping and cutting and lifting, and finally tying together bundles of thatching. Only when the sun began to set and the black water numbed their feet did [his father] call an end to the day’s work. Bone-tired, John trudged home….

He returned to school — this time with a new teacher, Joseph Marsh, who finally engaged young Adams’s mind. Adams met a life-long companion in Cicero.

Later, when he was prepared to go to college at age fifteen, he rode to Harvard alone on his father’s mare to take his Examination of Candidates for Admissions before the college’s president and masters. He was sufficiently terrified, later recalling dark and threatening clouds along the path, a treacherous and foreboding ride.

He was, to his great relief, declared “fitted for college,” and then his father, who had long prodded him in his education, did something remarkable. McCullough writes:

It had long been an article of faith among the Adamses that land was the only sound investment and, once purchased, was never to be sold. Only once is Deacon John known to have made an exception to the rule, when he sold ten acres to help send his son John to college.

Adams went to Harvard and discovered for the first time his love of books and learning. For all the remainder of his life he was a voracious reader, rarely without a book. He became schoolmaster at Worcester after college, and passed his time reading Milton, Virgil, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke. He studied politics and history, discovered his voice as a public speaker on public issues.

Adams became a student of the law under the tutelage of James Putnam, and spent days at court in Boston observing Jeremiah Gridley and James Otis, the most celebrated lawyers of the day. It was this legal education that would later make him one of the nation’s great constitutional lawyers and authors.

As he read, observed, and practiced, he felt his powers growing inside of him.

In short, his journey from son of a shoemaker to world statesman was underway. But it started with a stroke of luck: a father who forced him to continue his education, and who sacrificed to support his studies.

Adams’s education would benefit from one additional stroke of good luck.

In 1758, he believed he was in love:

If I look upon a law book my eyes it is true are on the book, but imagination is at a tea table seeing that hair, those eyes, that shape, that familiar friendly look…. I go to bed and ruminate half the night, then fall asleep and dream the same enchanting scenes.

Her name was Hannah Quincy, and John was inspired to propose to her on one memorable evening, only to be interrupted by friends who burst into the room, unaware of what was transpiring. The proposal never came. The accident, Adams wrote in his diary, “left me at liberty” and “delivered me from very dangerous shackles.”

The happy accident lengthened his education: “Now let me collect my thoughts,” he wrote, “and apply them with steady resolution and an aspiring spirit to the prosecution of my studies.”

It refocussed him on his burgeoning career: “Let love and vanity be extinguished, and the great passions of ambition, patriotism, break out and burn.”

Most importantly, it left room for a happier distraction to arrive in 1759. Abigail Smith would be the most important tutor of his life.


This is the third in a four-part series on the “Fortunate Son of Liberty — John Adams.”

Part I: “Fortunate Son of Liberty”
Part II: “Stout-hearted Atlas”
Part III: “The scythe and the mare”
Part IV: “Long-suffering Portia”

Stout-hearted Atlas

The first stout-hearted Atlas was descended from the mythic Titan of Seas, Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans, and he summoned the power of his forefathers to hold the heavens high. Our Atlas of Independence, John Adams, was descended from the great Puritan migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His forefathers were the source of his most deeply held values, which would time and again be Adams’s saving grace, and the nation’s.

At the end of his life, Adams chose not to write his own epitaph and lionize his own accomplishments. Instead, he placed a stone at the first Henry Adams’s grave, evoking virtues we all could aspire to:

This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a great, great grandson from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, frugality, industry and perseverance of his ancestors in hopes of recommending an affirmation of their virtues to their posterity.

John AdamsHis decision is telling. The noble virtues were Adams’s finest inheritance, greatest ambition, and most important legacy to his children.

By all accounts, Adams was a notably honest man, independent, and hardworking, even if he was obliged to confront his vanity, jealousy, and occasional intemperance.

His virtues were rooted in a lineage that arrived in the New World by 1638. Edith Squire and the first Henry Adams imparted them to their nine children and eighty-nine grandchildren.

Adams was proud of his descent from “a line of virtuous, independent New England farmers.”

“They were people who earned their daily bread by the work of their hands,” writes biographer David McCullough.

The men were all farmers who, through the long winters, in New England fashion, worked at other trades for “hard money” …. The first John Adams … was a farmer and shoemaker, a man of “sturdy, unostentatious demeanor,” who, like his father, “played the part of solid citizen,” as a tithing man, constable, lieutenant in the militia, selectman, and ultimately church deacon….

Adams admired his father’s superior “wisdom, piety, benevolence and charity….” He channeled these qualities and, with Abigail, nurtured them in his children.

“Let frugality and industry be our virtues,” he wrote to Abigail in a letter about their children. “Fire them with ambition to be useful.”


Lest we gain an altogether too pious image of Adams, we should recall that he is the same man who called Alexander Hamilton “the bastard brat of a Scotch peddler”; Thomas Paine “a mongrel between pigg and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf”; and Paine’s Common Sense “a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass….”

Adams’s venom tongue may well have been what kept him from the ministry — a calling he considered through his childhood, adolescence, and young adult life. For Adams, it would have been, in biographer Joseph Ellis’s words, “in its clearest and purest form, a commitment to the virtuous life.”

He chose law over church, but not vice over virtue. “I set out with firm Resolutions … never to commit any meanness or injustice in the Practice of Law,” Adams wrote. His profession did not “dissolve the obligations of morality or of Religion.”

Adams “carried with him into the secular calling of lawyer and later public official the moral obligation and self-imposed expectations of the New England ministry,” writes Ellis. His impossibly high standard of virtue, disinterestedness, and purity, “seemed to require isolation and unpopularity as evidence of its authenticity.”

Thus we arrive at Adams’s most fortunate inheritance: a fierce independence.

He had a dark — if well-informed — view of human nature unleashed:

We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power.

Adams stood by what he judged virtuous and correct, not what he judged popular. He was suspicious of popularity, and he often equated popular measures with corrupt motives. It was the blessing and curse of his political career.

The decisive example cost him his prospects for a second presidential term.

Much of Adams’s presidency was ailed by war fever. During the Quasi-war with France, French privateers assaulted U.S. shipping, killing 20 Americans, wounding 40, and diverting more than 300 American sailors and their cargos. The economic effects were crippling.

It was an undeclared war sliding toward the official transatlantic conflagration Washington had warned against in his Farewell Address. The union was too young, its resources too meager, its military might too nebulous. The outcome, Adams knew, would be disastrous.

When news reached American shores of the XYZ Affair — French Minister Talleyrand’s demand for bribes in exchange for negotiations — cries for an American declaration of war grew deafening.

As a wartime president, Adams’s popularity soared. The song “Adams and Liberty” became a national anthem. Characteristically, Adams grew suspicious, and at the height of the war’s popularity he sent a new — highly unpopular — peace mission to France.

He consulted no one. Opponents inside and outside of his party universally described themselves as “Thunderstruck.”

Ellis writes:

Adams … consulted not a single member of his cabinet or party, made no effort to persuade or prepare the political leadership in Congress and, most incredibly, proceeded to absent himself from the seat of government for the next seven months, remaining ensconced in Quincy while reading the collected works of Frederick the Great.

The peace mission succeeded in preventing the escalation of a disastrous war. The Convention of 1800 ended hostilities. The United States was set on a path toward the Louisiana Purchase and an eventual coast-to-coast, continental empire. The nation was primed for one of the greatest demographic and economic booms in its history.

Alienated, isolated, stout-hearted Adams lost his presidency.


This is the second in a four-part series on the “Fortunate Son of Liberty — John Adams.”

Part I: “Fortunate Son of Liberty”
Part II: “Stout-hearted Atlas”
Part III: “The scythe and the mare”
Part IV: “Long-suffering Portia”

Fortunate son of liberty

John Adams made a prediction 235-years ago this week about the day of independence. It “will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, and parade, with shows, games, sports, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

John Adams at the Declaration of IndependenceThe statement is notable today for two reasons. First, Adams was predicting illuminations across the continent at a time when the newborn United States ended at the Alleghenies. Second, he was predicting a July 2nd Independence Day, one that would have immortalized Adams as the “Atlas” of independence, rather than Jefferson as its “Prometheus.”

His ambition and vanity are well known, but his miscalculation would prove provident.

Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 — separated by five hours and 500 miles — exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” Adams uttered shortly before his death at six in the evening. He was wrong.


His story began in the same place it ended. Adams came of age in the “City of Legends,” modern day Quincy, Massachusetts, surrounded by granite outcroppings that would become the bedrock of the town’s economy. Quincy granite from the Quincy quarry reached a national market by 1826 via the Granite Railway. Today, you can visit the Adams family tomb at the United First Parish Church — both tomb and church are made of granite.

From birth to death Adams, like the rock that so abounds in his town, was defined by his toughness, even his coarseness. He scrapped and he made himself a giant of the age. But the man of granite lived modestly. “His hands,” writes biographer David McCullough, “were the hands of a man accustomed to pruning his own trees, cutting his own hay, and splitting his own firewood.” He had little inheritance; he was never rich; and he never enjoyed great social standing.

He amassed no great fortune in his lifetime, yet John Adams was an incredibly fortunate man.

Yes he had sadness in his private life. During the two decades of his ascent from Boston lawyer to vice president of the United States, Adams spent a full ten of twenty years apart from his beloved best friend, Abigail. In the end, he outlived her and four of their six children. Suzanna died before her second birthday in 1770; Elizabeth was stillborn in 1777; Charles died of his alcoholism at the age of 30 in 1800; Nabby, his eldest, of breast cancer in 1813.

Asked at the end of his life if he would like to begin it again, Adams’s responded:

I have had a Father and lost him. I have had a Mother and lost her. I have had a Wife and lost her. I have had Children and lost them. I have had honorable and worthy Friends and lost them — and instead of suffering these Griefs again, I had rather go forward and meet my destiny.

Yes he was destined to be overshadowed by others of the founding fathers, wedged as his lonely presidential term was between 16 years of Washington and Jefferson. “The history of our Revolution,” Adams wrote to his good friend Benjamin Rush,

will be one of continued Lye from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod, smote the Earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod — and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures, and War.

Yes he was president too late to avoid Washington’s long shadow and too early to make the legacy-clenching Louisiana Purchase. His presidency began at an inopportune moment, with political animosities at home and troubles brewing abroad. Jefferson, Adams’s electoral runner up in 1796, appreciated the difficulties his opponent faced:

The President [Washington] is fortunate to get off just as the bubble is bursting, leaving others to hold the bag. Yet, as his departure will mark the moment when the difficulties begin to work, you will see, that they will be ascribed to the new administration…. [N]o man will carry out of that office the reputation which carries him into it.

Despite all of this, Adams’s career was charmed in one big way: He lived in a time and place where his enormous talents could work for a noble and enduring cause — one much, much larger than he could have dreamed.

As a youth, he faced the same questions our students do today. Who am I? What is my purpose? What will I do with my life? “I shall never shine,” Adams wrote in his diary, “till some animating occasion calls forth all my powers.”

The occasion came, and shine he did. At the Second Continental Congress he led the charge for Independence against rivals John Dickinson, Edward Rutledge, and others. He orated, debated, and jockeyed behind the scenes before the July 2, 1776, vote. It was Adams who pressed to adopt the Continental Army, Adams who selected Washington as its general, Adams who handpicked Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. He served on 90 committees and headed the Board of War and Ordnance which, according to biographer Joseph Ellis, “made him … a one-man war department responsible for raising, equipping, and assuring civilian control over the entire American military.”

He rose above a congress of giants, a “school of political prophets,” as Adams called it. According to a fellow delegate, it was “the opinion of every man in the house … that [Adams] possesses the clearest head and firmest heart of any man in the Congress.”

The fire at his igneous core overflowed and underlaid the American cause. This man of granite revealed an unexpected luster.

He had the good fortune of being born in a time and place where he could shine, where his values and temperament aligned with the nation’s needs, if not always its political moods. He was lucky to reach the peak of his powers at the right moment, and we now see that Adams’s “reputation and the American Revolution … erupted onto the world simultaneously.”

Seneca the Younger has been quoted saying that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Yet, as we shall see, even in preparation Adams benefited enormously from three strokes of good luck.


This is the first in a four-part series on the “Fortunate Son of Liberty — John Adams.”

Part I: “Fortunate Son of Liberty”
Part II: “Stout-hearted Atlas”
Part III: “The scythe and the mare”
Part IV: “Long-suffering Portia”

Social media and the American experiment

John Adams“The people want to bring down the regime.”

Thus goes the motto of the Arab Spring, a wave of revolutionary ferment arriving in more than a dozen countries, from the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Red Sea coasts of Africa to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.

The popular debate — engaged by the who’s who of Twitterati and American intellectual elite, including Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell — has been on the impact of social media.

Beyond communication — i.e., we plan on Facebook, coordinate on Twitter, and show the world on YouTube — has social media caused light air, a strong gale force wind, or something more?

We find an answer in the 250-year-old sea change that began in Boston Harbor.


“Thirteen clocks were made to strike together,” John Adams wrote of the synchronized uprising by otherwise disunited American colonies. “A perfect mechanism,” he called it, “a singular example in the history of mankind.”

But what was the American revolution? Was it Washington’s war? Jefferson’s Declaration? Madison’s Constitution? For Adams,

The revolution was in the minds of the people … in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington.

And it was touched off by the era’s distinctive social media: the pamphlet.

Pamphlets of the American revolution were folded printer sheets, writes Bernard Bailyn, “stitched together loosely, unbound and uncovered….” They provided several advantages over competing media:

•  Complete freedom of expression, according to George Orwell

•  Speed and affordability, compared to books

•  Space and global reach, compared to newspapers

Virtually anyone — at minimum cost and risk, maximum speed and reach — could “investigate premises, explore logic, and consider conclusions” for a broad national and even global audience.

Pamphlets were a social media in two ways.

They were in conversation with each other. They included “chain-reacting personal polemics: strings of individual exchanges — arguments, replies, rebuttals, and counter rebuttals….”

They were consumed in community. One copy would be read by an entire household, recited in the public square, distributed through a circulation society, or forwarded to family and friends — across town lines, colonies, and oceans.

Three famous examples are instructive.

Thomas PaineJohn Dickenson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania acknowledged British authority in imperial affairs, but claimed American domestic sovereignty. Dickenson was republished across the colonies and in London, Dublin, and Paris.

Thomas Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America argued that colonists had created laws to promote happiness in their new context, and Parliament had no jurisdiction to change them. It established Jefferson’s reputation as a writer.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense said that no island can rule a continent. He sold 500,000 copies in 25 editions within a year — that was one for every five people in the colonies. It’s easy to imagine virtually every American reading or hearing Paine’s words.

In all, 1,500 pamphlets were published between 1750 and 1783. They are widely credited as the cause of radical change in the minds and hearts of the people, and the American “religious, moral, political, and social” revolution that Adams described.


Yet, we need only recall the names of seven individuals to understand the limits of this popular revolution: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton.

Imagine the moment of Independence.

Washington was commanding and Hamilton was serving in the field. Madison, 25-years-old, was in the Virginia state legislature. Franklin, Adams, Jay, and Jefferson were in the Continental Congress at Philadelphia.

These seven were leaders — not just thought leaders, but men of action.

Independence had been fiercely debated in congress for two months. It was in this debate that Adams earned his title “Atlas of Independence” in volley with opponents who thought the decision was premature, unwise, dangerous, or treasonous.

In June, Richard Henry Lee offered his resolution:

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegience to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Now, on July 2, 1776, congress was seated for the vote. New Hampshire voted yes. Rhode Island: yes. Massachusetts: yes. New York abstained. Connecticut: yes. New Jersey: yes. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia: yes.

Thomas JeffersonWe imagine 150 decibels of celebration: men cheering, rapping canes, clenching fists — waves of adrenaline and patriotism surging through the congress.

For Adams, it was a moment of triumph. It was a defining victory. It was a culmination of his long education, his fierce determination, his months-long labor in Philadelphia’s summer heat.

It was an earth-shakingly historic moment.

And yet, by all accounts the delegates were overcome by silence and stillness. The air sucked out of the room.


Because it was a solemn decision, rife with peril, and with grave consequences for a new nation at war.

Two days later, congress pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. This was not hyperbole.

Franklin quipped, “We must hang together … else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

Washington, Adams, and Jay had served in the First Continental Congress. Washington, Adams, Jay, Franklin, and Jefferson served in the Second. Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin authored independence. Washington and Hamilton fought the war. Franklin, Adams, and Jay negotiated the peace at Paris. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton wrote a new and unprecedented constitution, which was then preserved and protected by President Washington, Vice President Adams, Chief Justice Jay, Secretaries Jefferson and Hamilton, Congressman Madison.

These seven stepped forward time and again to serve. They risked all.

Our lesson is that the most important social media of the day — the pamphlet — was instrumental in changing hearts and minds. But it was no substitute for courageous leadership.


Reflecting on social media and the Arab Spring in the pages of Foreign Affairs, Clay Shirky wrote, “the potential of social media is mainly in their support of civil society and the public sphere — change measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months.”

Informed conversation — cheaper, faster, safer, and more dynamic than ever, thanks to social media — is the source of changing political opinion.

Responding to this point of view in The New YorkerMalcolm Gladwell wrote, “Activism that challenges the status quo … is not for the faint of heart.” It’s not for acquaintances who “like” causes.

Change requires risk-taking men and women, and it requires energetic, strategic, and disciplined leadership.

Meaningful political change — in the founder’s time and ours — occurs where strong civil society meets the courageous leadership of a dedicated few. The product is a perfect storm and, we hope, a prudent recovery.

Wherever green is worn

Seamus Deane and Seamus Heaney

Seamus Deane (left) and Seamus Heaney (right) were profiled in the 2009 documentary film, "The Boy's of St. Columb's." Photo by Maccana Teoranta (

Professor Seamus Deane — a Derry-born poet, critic, and novelist — is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Irish literature and culture. He serves as Keough Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, founding director of the Field Day Theatre Company, and member of the Royal Irish Academy. Professor Deane edited the three-volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, and his own prolific writing includes collected essays, histories, four books of poetry, and the award-winning novel, Reading In the Dark, which has been translated into 20 languages.

I had the incredible privilege of studying Yeats and Heaney under Professor Deane as an undergraduate student, and I recently caught up with him to ask,

What literature evokes the heroes, events, values, and tensions that ground Ireland’s unique brand of leadership?

His top seven sources span ten centuries. Taken together, they present a sinuous interweaving of pride and guilt; rootedness and homelessness; inclusion and otherness; tradition and innovation; tragedy and heroism. We find an ambivalence that perhaps, like the devil haunt of Professor Deane’s novel, “spreads and … spreads down the generations like a shout down a tunnel that echoes and echoes and never really stops.”

  1. The Tain, translated by Thomas Kinsella. Excerpted from Táin Bó Cuailnge of Ireland’s pre-Christian Ulster Cycle, Kinsella’s translated epic chronicles the hero Cuchulainn’s defensive war against Queen Medb. This Celtic Achilles “met and fought” invading enemies without fear, and was later invoked by both Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists during the Irish War for Independence.
  2. Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France advocates the “inheritance [of laws and liberties] from our forefathers,” rather than the fabrication of new laws based on metaphysical abstractions on the rights of man. Burke’s work upholds tradition, property, and religion, and is prescient in predicting the coming Reign of Terror.
  3. Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies and Memoirs of Captain Rock. The romantic “Poet of the People” is best remembered for his expression of “the smile and the tear” of the Irish experience, but his Memoirs of Captain Rock were groundbreaking in their exposure for an English audience of the harsh conditions that galvanized Irish-Catholic rebellion.
  4. William Butler Yeats’s Poems, including “No Second Troy,” “September 1913,” “Easter 1916,” “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” “The Second Coming,” “Crazy Jane,” and “Bishop”; and his Plays, including “Words Upon the Windowpane” and “Purgatory.” Yeats’s work gives space to Irish legend and mysticism, serving as a fountainhead of the Irish literary revival, and it sheds light on the fight for Irish independence.
  5. James Joyce’s “The Dead” and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce gives voice to the burdensome social routines and cultural traditions that paralyze his characters or force them to extremes of depravity and austerity. Protagonists Gabriel Conroy and Stephen Dedalus hold out hope of deliverance and redemption through the embrace of life.
  6. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” “Krapp’s Last Tape,” and “All that Fall.” Beckett’s haunting, tragicomic plays enter the inner world of his modern characters to find destitution, failure, loss, and despair. His stripped down, avant-garde, middle and late works mark a break with realism and convention.
  7. Seamus Heaney’s North and Human Chain. Rich in history and myth, Heaney’s work draws out “the smile and the tear” of the post-modern Irish experience, including the violent “troubles” that have coincided with his career. Heaney joined Yeats and Beckett among Nobel Prize winners in literature in 1995.
These giants of Irish literature loom large in the consciousness of falcons and falconers alike.

Travel … for our sake, if not yours

Adolf Hitler in ParisThere are many reasons for students and life long learners to spend time on foreign soil. Abroad experiences are a chance to travel, break your routine, and learn about other cultures. They can help you add a language and enhance your resume. They can be a tremendous source of insights into your self and your community. They can spark your enthusiasm for learning. They can enhance your creativity by exposing you to new ideas and worldviews. For up-and-coming leaders, there is yet another reason.

Studying abroad may prevent you from becoming evil.

It turns out that travel can break down many of the stereotypes and other parochial ideas that lead to hate. In his study Leading Minds, Harvard professor of education and neurology Howard Gardner draws out startling contrasts among a generation of leaders that called the shots during World War II. In socioeconomics, upbringing, education, expertise, and career experience, evil leaders Hitler, Stalin, and Mao differed in clearly defined ways from contemporaries Roosevelt, Churchill, Chiang, Tojo, and Gandhi.[1]

One of the starkest contrasts is early experience in foreign countries:

•  Churchill served as a military reporter in Cuba, India, Sudan, and South Africa in his 20s.

•  Young Roosevelt toured Europe.

•  Chiang spent time in Japan and the Soviet Union.

•  Tojo trained in Berlin.

•  Gandhi lived in Europe and South Africa before his struggle for Indian independence.[2]

Our sample of evil leaders rarely stepped on foreign soil:

•  Young Hitler fought on the Western Front, but otherwise stuck to Germany and Austria.

•  Stalin never left his home country before gaining power.

•  Mao didn’t either, and his first trip was to visit Stalin!

“Travel abroad in one’s youth,” writes Gardner, “opens one up to the perspectives of different cultures and ideologies. It is more difficult to maintain a monolithic perspective … when one has been exposed regularly to contrasting viewpoints.”[3]

Instead of taking an interest in different cultures and ideologies, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao cultivated their hatred and later leveraged it to gain the support of their most xenophobic countrymen. They went on to well-documented careers in terror and violence. They were responsible collectively for an estimated 130 million deaths.

So for your sake — and ours — seek world education. Explore, by sea, land, and air, with all your might.


[1] Howard Gardner, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 247-255.

[2] Gardner, Leading Minds, 248.

[3] Gardner, Leading Minds, 249.

Be a booster, not a buster

Be a booster

Photograph: Sebastian Kaulitzki |

Leadership comes in many forms, but few would deny that a key responsibility for all leaders is the cultivation of morale. In their book Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee point out that emotions “spread like viruses.”[1]

What does this mean?

It means that from complex evidence that revolves around the human amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and mirror neurons, we can draw a simple conclusion: your emotional state has an impact on others. And emotions are a key to success.

We know a great deal today about how emotions effect organizational performance. In general, good feelings lead to mental efficiency, better judgement, and flexibility. Humor in the workplace increases creativity and trust. Laughter creates the strongest bond our limbic systems are capable of, and serves as a powerful mental lubricant. Mild anxiety in the short-term increases focus. A momentary burst of anger can rivet attention and generate energy. Both anxiety and anger play crucial roles, but they are destructive to morale and your bottom line if used too often. Individuals who masters the art of emotional leadership resonate with superiors, peers, and subordinates, and improve motivation and performance within their organizations.

Emotional leadership starts at the top — high-level leaders “add the strongest seasoning”[2] — but it can come from any position within an organizational hierarchy. We all have the opportunity to be morale boosters or busters.

Morale boosters are

  1. motivated
  2. enthusiastic
  3. imaginative
  4. respectful
  5. interdependent
  6. trusting
  7. genial
  8. consistent in their moods
  9. excited about the work of others
  10. catalysts

Morale busters are

  1. depressed
  2. uninspired
  3. close-minded
  4. discourteous
  5. isolated
  6. cynical
  7. cold
  8. temperamental
  9. aloof
  10. inhibitors

Nobody spends all of their time in the morale booster category — life happens! But as we progress in our careers, we must spend more and more time there, and we can only do so if we begin practicing early. It takes self-awareness, focus, and discipline. It’s not enough to be a casual or part-time booster. It must become a priority. It must become second nature. With any luck, your effort will go viral.


[1] Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence (Cambridge: Harvard Business Press, 2002), 10.

[2] Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 8.

Times New Roman

Adrian GoldsworthyDr. Adrian Goldsworthy is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the history of Imperial Rome. He is author of nine books on ancient history, including most recently Antony and Cleopatra (2010), How Rome Fell: The Death a Superpower (2009), and Caesar: The Life of a Colossus (2006). He also happens to have been one of my history professors at the University of Notre Dame. I recently asked Dr. Goldsworthy which Latin texts (in English translation, of course) would be most helpful to modern students of leadership.

His response?

  1. Julius Caesar’s Gallic War commentaries, an autobiographical account written on the eve of the civil war that ended the Roman Republic. “Obviously it’s Caesar’s version of why he was such a great leader,” Dr. Goldsworthy says. “Although he presents his own actions well, how he does this and carries the reader along is interesting in itself.”
  2. Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars, “particularly the lives of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Vespasian.” Written by Emperor Hadrian’s private secretary, Twelve Caesars is an account — rich in anecdotes and observations — of the lives and careers of twelve men who held absolute authority in the Roman Empire.
  3. Cicero, the Roman politician, philosopher, and lawyer who reached the peak of his public career in the midst of Julius Caesar’s ascendency and death. “If you want an idea of powerful oratory,” Dr. Goldsworthy says, “then something like the Verrine Orations or the Orations Against Catiline. Otherwise, for more theoretical works, The Orator or even De Republica.”
  4. Vegetius’s On Matters Military, the Roman equivalent of Art of War, covering training, tactics, and strategy. “It presents a picture of the ideal army.”
  5. Frontinus’s Strategems. “It’s a bit off the wall,” says Dr. Goldsworthy. “It’s a list of clever tricks by commanders, with an emphasis on finding a way around any problem and turning the situation to advantage.” Frontinus served as Praetor, Consul, and Manager of Aqueducts during his career in Rome, and as governor in Britain.
  6. Plutarch’s Lives, the great biographical work that draws out the character of its Greek and Roman subjects as well as the times they helped shape. “It’s not Latin, but Alexander the Great or — indeed — Cicero or Demosthenes would be useful.”

Students of leadership would no doubt learn much from Dr. Goldsworthy’s histories and biographies, including Cannae: Hannibal’s Greatest Victory (2001), In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (2003), Caesar: The Life of a Colossus (2006), How Rome Fell: The Death of a Superpower (2009), and Antony and Cleopatra (2010).

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