As we approach the anniversary of the founding of this great republic I can’t help but reflect back on some of the amazing men that lead us to independence, Washington, Jefferson, Adams are at the top of the list.  There is an essential business leadership lesson in our history.

Essential Qualities of Leadership

All of these men had one thing in common, the two essential qualities of leadership; vision and integrity.  Each had a vision of what they wanted our country to look like.  Some visions, such as Adams’ for a strong central government and Jefferson’s for a strong State’s government, were contradictory and caused huge debates.  In the end it was the integrity of all concerned that saw them through the day.

John Adams

John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792-93

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, 1786,

Jefferson and Adams were good friends.  While Adams’ Vice President Jefferson became incensed and appalled by what he perceived to be the Federal Government’s consolidation of power masterminded by Adams.  His moral outrage was so strong that in 1798 he left the District of Columbia and returned to his home in Monticello.  There he planned on bringing his faction back into power which resulted in his election as our 3rd President in 1800*.  Although Jefferson achieved a political and moral victory, it came at a cost, that of his friendship with Adams.  The integrity of these two men caused the loss of their friendship over this issue but it is my opinion that, eventually, this same integrity allowed their personal schism to be healed.

Integrity is the single most important quality for effective leadership, be it political leadership, business leadership or any leadership.  Most people believe that integrity is a synonym for honesty.  In fact it is much larger than that.  Integrity is acting as an intact whole.  When no part of your being contradicts any other, when mind, body and spirit; philosophy, driving forces and behaviors are all aligned and demonstrate the same underpinnings of your beliefs.  Adams had no choice but to act as he did while President and Jefferson’s response was likewise required by his character.  So, although for over a decade they may have lost the friendship of each other, they never lost respect of the other.  History records that the two resumed their friendship in 1812 and remained friends until they both died on July 4, 1826.

Lessons for Business Leaders

The lesson for business leaders is that respect is more important than friendship.  Over the last 30 years I have met business owners and managers that believe the key to effective management is becoming friends with their direct reports.  As a result, they do not enforce policies consistently nor hold employees accountable.  Consequently, they are never respected and usually employees take advantage of these owners and managers to the detriment of the business.  If, like Adams and Jefferson, they act with integrity by communicating their standards and then holding everyone, even themselves, to that standard, they will be respected and probably liked as well.