Speaking on leadership & wisdom
                       ... from the past ... to the present ... for your future
"Were we directed from Washington
when to plant and when to reap,
we would soon want bread."
Thomas Jefferson, 1821
Rounded Corner
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I have the pleasure to inform you that mr Briggs & his companion were in good health at Colo. Hawkins establishment near the Talapousee river, which place they left on the 3d. of Oct. and expected to be at Fort Stoddart in a week from that time. mr Briggs having been able to procure but a single half sheet of paper, which he was obliged to fill with a report to me, had no means of writing to you. the Indians had recieved & treated him with great kindness. we may shortly expect to hear of his arrival at New Orleans.
Thomas Jefferson to Hannah Briggs, December 5, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep wives informed.
Isaac Briggs, Surveyor General of the Mississippi Territory, was traveling between Washington City and New Orleans to make astronomical observations for the development of a new southern postal road. He reported to the President on October 2 about their arduous progress.

He did not have enough paper to write both his boss and his wife. He put his job first, concluding his report with a request that the President inform his wife of his well-being.

In a reply two weeks later, Hannah Briggs thanked the President, claiming this was the first word she’d had about her husband in three months. She begged any further information he might receive,  good or bad.

On January 2, Thomas Jefferson wrote again to Mrs. Briggs about her husband’s safe arrival in New Orleans.

“We received a number of compliments
for adding a unique element to the conference program.”
Co-Conference Coordinator, Natural Areas Association, Bend, OR
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Immigrants should be treated … how?

they will find a disposition in the great majority here to do whatever circumstances will admit for our new fellow citizens, to do as much for them as we do for our own brothers & children settling in new territories, & only to refuse them what the principles of our constitution & government refuse equally to all … we have no motive of action here but the combined good of the whole & all it’s parts … in a whole composed of parts, no one part must come for itself. if particular individuals … excite insurrection with you, the energies of the law must lay hold of them.
To William C. C. Claiborne, December 2, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even-handed leaders respect all law-abiding parties.
The President wrote to the Territorial Governor of Louisiana, using the arrival of two Frenchman to explain how all newcomers should be treated:
1. The “great majority” of our citizens will welcome newcomers.
2. Immigrants and Americans should receive equal treatment in the new territory.
3. The immigrant  is denied only what our Constitution denies to all.
4. America’s only motive is “the combined good of the whole & all it’s parts.”
5. It is common sense that no one part should expect favorable treatment.
6. Rebellion by anyone should be treated seriously, as provided by law.

“The manner in which you tailored your comments to local government …
made your presentation all the more meaningful to our members.”
Executive Director, Association of Indiana Counties
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My idea won’t work. I am calling an audible.

The importance of appointing officers for the government of Orleans who speak both the French and English languages has produced difficulties … which have distressed me exceedingly. the French language entered so little into education in this country … it is difficult, even among those, otherwise well qualified, to find persons who can speak French. the impossibility of compleating my arrangement in the way I had first proposed has placed me under the painful, but inevitable necessity of some change in it. in fact my greatest difficulty is in finding lawyers who can speak French: and this has obliged me to make a change in your destination …
To James Brown, December 1, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders go to Plan B when their noble ideas don’t work.
In an earlier post, the President explained the importance of appointing people who spoke both English and French to the new territorial government in New Orleans. Since the majority of people there would be French speakers, bi-lingual leaders would facilitate good will. If only it were that easy …

French had not been taught enough in America to yield a sizeable pool of bi-lingual citizens. People otherwise qualified failed when it came to the second language requirement. The shortage was acute when it came to finding bi-lingual lawyers, and Brown must have been one of the few. Thus, Jefferson had to retreat from his noble idea and change Brown’s appointment. Instead of being Secretary for the new territory, Jefferson had nominated him, instead, for the Superior Court there. The pay would be the same but the perks more preferable.

“The program was excellent … great as I expected, well actually even better!
I hope you were as pleased with the turnout as I was.”
Daniel Boone Regional Library
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Such bickering is useless and destructive!

With respect to the late conduct of mr Lilly & Perry towards you as stated in your letter, I trust you know my line of conduct better than to suppose it could flow from any orders of mine … it is my rule never to take a side or any part in the quarrels of others, nor to enquire into them. I generally presume them to flow from the indulgence of too much passion on both sides, & always find that each party thinks all the wrong was in his adversary. these bickerings, which are always useless, embitter human life more than any other cause: and I regret that which has happened in the present case. I shall always be ready to render you any service I can …
To James Oldham, November 30, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders stay out of problems not their own.
Oldham, Jefferson’s highly regarded former joiner (skilled woodworker) at Monticello, wrote his patron about ugly accusations and death threats received from Lilly, a Monticello overseer, and his brother-in-law, Perry. The accusers claimed they were acting on information from Jefferson, himself.

Not so, wrote the President, claiming Oldham should know him well enough to know otherwise. Beyond that, Jefferson explained:
1. He took no part in such quarrels, not even asking questions about them.
2. Usually, the fault was “too much passion on both sides.”
3. Always, each side imputed all the blame to the other.
4. Always such useless bickering harmed personal relationships “more than any other cause.”

While staying out of the argument, Jefferson regretted Oldham found himself in such a predicament and affirmed his willingness to be of any assistance needed.

“Even though it has been a few months since the seminar in Boston,
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You definitely made an impact on the group.”
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I like it! I’d also like this and this. Oh, and this, too.

Passing as I do the active hours of my life in my study, I have found it essential to bring all the implements I use there within the narrowest compas possible; & in no case to lose a single inch of space which can be made to hold any thing. hence every thing is placed within my reach without getting out of my chair. on this principle I approve of the two drawers to the Polygraph proposed in your letter of the 25th … which would hold paper, pens, penknife, pencils, scissors, Etc. Etc. …
To Charles Willson Peale, November 28, 1804
P.S. Since writing my letter of this morning it has occurred to me …

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Efficient leaders appreciate advice in being even more efficient!
Previous posts detailed Jefferson’s delight in his polygraph, a personal copy machine. Philadelphia friend, artist and museum owner Peale was making two more, one ordered by the President for a friend and another for Jefferson’s use. Peale suggested the design of the polygraph case would allow for the addition of two storage drawers. Jefferson agreed!

Drawers would add to his efficiency, a matter of great interest to him. He wouldn’t have to leave his desk to get more supplies! Always the micro-manager when it came to his personal tastes, not only did he approve the drawers, but he also dictated their exact size, one “10⅜ I. square” and another “12⅜ I. by 6.” While he was at it, he suggested two other design changes.

If that weren’t enough, yet another modification came to mind later in the day. He rarely added postscripts to his letters, but he did this time. The proposed change would necessitate decreasing one dimension of each drawer “three quarters of an inch.”

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Vice-President, Site Development Engineering, Inc.
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Business decisions are easy. Personnel ones are not. (OR: HR sucks. Part 5 of 5)

the transaction of the great interests of our country costs us little trouble or difficulty. there the line is plain to men of some experience. but the task of appointment is a heavy one indeed. he on whom it falls may envy the lot of a Sisyphus or Ixion. their agonies were of the body: this of the mind. yet, like the office of hangman, it must be executed by some one. it has been assigned to me & made my duty. I make up my mind to it therefore, & abandon all regard to consequences.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The hangman has to suck it up and do his job.
The subtitle for these five posts, “HR sucks,” is only an attention-getter, not a disparagement of the important field of human relations. Thomas Jefferson never used those words, but he might have had that thought. This series highlights the hardest part of his job, making decisions that affected people’s lives, their families and finances. He concluded with this summary.
1. Key leadership decisions were not troublesome “to men of some experience.”
2. Appointing people to offices was extremely troublesome.
3. He might envy mythological characters condemned to eternal physical punishment for their choices. His (Jefferson’s) torment was of the mind.
4. Like the hangman, this was his job, and he accepted the responsibility.
5. Having done so, he did it without “regard to the consequences,” i.e. human disappointment or collateral damage.

“Our attendees enjoyed your presentation … very educational, informative,
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Director of Member Services, Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives
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I make one friend & 10 enemies at the same time. (OR: HR sucks. Part 4 of 5)

… [if] you [had] hundreds to nominate, instead of one, be assured they would not compose for you a bed of roses. you would find yourself in most cases with one loaf & ten wanting bread. nine must be disappointed, perhaps become secret, if not open, enemies.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders sometimes must turn friends into detractors.
Five posts from this single letter detail Jefferson’s challenges in the human relations realm. Larkin had written to the President, expressing not only his dismay over losing a federal appointment he thought he had earned but also his annoyance at not receiving personal notification of the loss.

While Larkin had only himself to consider, the President had hundreds! Every federal job opening brought a flood of applicants. Each choice would make one person happy and disappoint all the rest, feed one and send the others away hungry. Some losers would become secret enemies. Some would even turn into public ones.

Instead of “a bed of roses,” with countless ones paying him compliments while seeking his favor, this aspect of his job was more a bed of thorns.

“… I had no idea what to expect.
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I respect your principled choice, for or against me. (Or: HR sucks. Part 3 of 5)

you observe that you are, or probably will be, appointed an elector. I have no doubt you will do your duty with a conscientious regard to the public good & to that only. your decision in favor of another would not excite in my mind the slightest dissatisfaction towards you. on the contrary I should honor the integrity of your choice.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Secure leaders do not get overly invested in others’ choices.
Larkin had expressed his dismay over not receiving any notification that he had been passed over for what he deemed a well-deserved federal appointment. The President explained why in previous posts.

Larkin concluded his letter with the likelihood he would be chosen as a delegate from Virginia to the Electoral College, where he would certainly cast his vote for Jefferson’s reelection. Was it an honest compliment or blatant flattery … or both? Was he implying: I will have your back. Why couldn’t you have mine?

Jefferson replied he didn’t care who received Larkin’s  vote. He trusted him to vote his conscience and only with “regard to the public good.” He would not mind if Larkin voted for another, nor would it change his attitude toward him.  Rather, if Larkin voted against him, Jefferson would “honor the integrity of your choice.”

This was a common theme for Jefferson, that he didn’t let others’ political choices affect their personal relationships, unless they first withdrew from him.

“… your presentation for the New Mexico FEB [Federal Executive Board]
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No quagmires for me! (Or: HR sucks. Part 2 of 4)

to the unsuccessful multitude, am I to go with every one into the reasons for not appointing him? besides that this correspondence would literally engross my whole time, into what controversies would it lead me? sensible of this dilemma, from the moment of coming into office, I laid it down as a rule to leave the applicants to collect their answer from the fact. to entitle myself to the benefit of the rule in any case it must be observed in every one: and I never have departed from it in a single case, not even for my bosom friends.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders learn what works and stick with it, regardless.
In the first post in this series, Jefferson explained he was under no obligation to let Smith know he had been passed over for a government appointment or to tell him the reasons why. Now he explained:
1. To do so for every unsuccessful applicant would take all of his time.
2. It would also open the door to even further “controversies,” debate, argument and conflict, all of which he disliked.

Aware of these pitfalls from the very beginning of his administration, it was his policy that the only notice given would be of the successful applicant. All the losers would get their answer, and their only answer, in the same way.

Since Jefferson benefited from this policy by avoiding # 1 and # 2 above, he was obligated to use it with everyone. He applied it in every case, even when a loser was a close friend.

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You have your answer. (Or: HR sucks, Part 1 of 4)

Your letter of the 10th. came to hand yesterday evening. it is written with frankness and independance, and will be answered in the same way. you complain that I did not answer your letters applying for office. but if you will reflect a moment you may judge whether this ought to be expected. to the successful applicant for an office the commission is the answer. to the unsuccessful multitude, am I to go with every one into the reasons for not appointing him?
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders do not owe everyone an explanation.
Smith’s letter of November 10 was the third he had written to the President, complaining that he had not been notified of being passed over for a government appointment. Smith thought his service during the war for independence and his political orientation merited his selection. (Founders Archives, my source for Jefferson’s correspondence, does not contain Smith’s first two letters. Either the letters never reached Jefferson or did and were then lost.) Jefferson promised he would now reply in the same vein Smith had used with him.

Did Smith have a right to be notified that the office had gone to another? No. The announcement that someone else was appointed was the only notification anyone would receive. Was Jefferson obligated to explain his reasoning to the many unsuccessful applicants? Again, no. The reasons will be in Part 2.

In a churlish aside to his complaint, Smith said he had just recently married well, and no longer needed or wanted the job. He wouldn’t have pursued it in the first place had he not been in dire financial straits.

“Again, a very heartfelt thank you
for sharing your time, talent and knowledge …”

Conferences and Seminars Manager, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
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