Blog posts may be reprinted without permission,
provided a link to www.JeffersonLeadership.com is included.

Category Archives: Leadership

Attributes, qualities and characteristics of leadership according to Thomas Jefferson

Don’t lay blame. Instead, decide and act!

on the question Whether the Yellow fever is infectious [contagious], or endemic [confined to a certain place], the Medical faculty is divided into parties, and it certainly is not the office of the public functionaries to denounce either party as the Doctr. [Benjamin Rush] proposes. yet, so far as they are called on to act, they must form for themselves an opinion to act on.
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders see no value in placing blame.
Virginia’s Governor Page (1743-1808), a life-long friend, was facing the seasonal return of the deadly yellow fever in the state’s coastal region. Jefferson enclosed a letter from a mutual friend, Dr. Rush, expressing his (Rush’s) opinion on the disease and criticism of those who disagreed.

Jefferson would have none of it. Laying blame would serve no purpose, especially when the medical experts themselves were divided about the cause of the disease. Facing the unknown, “public functionaries” (government and public health leaders) had the responsibility to form the best opinion possible from conflicting information and act on it.

Thomas Jefferson will act upon your invitation to speak.
Invite him. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Leadership, Protecting ourselves Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

No cheats! No hacks! No speculators!

… I can only recommend an adherence to the principles which would have governed myself in making the selection. 1. to reject dishonest men. 2. those called federalists even the honest men among them, are so imbued with party prejudice … that they are incapable of weighing candidly the pro and the con … their effect in the public councils is merely to embarras & thwart them. 3. land-jobbers [speculators] are undesirable. it is difficult for them, even with honest intentions, to act without bias in questions having any relation to their personal interests.
Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, April 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know even honest men can act dishonorably.
The President had been asked to pick five men out of ten nominated to serve on a legislative council for the Territory of Indiana. He knew none of the nominees and delegated the selection to Harrison (1773-1841), Territorial Governor. He recommended three standards:
1. No “dishonest men”
2. None from the political opposition – Even honest ones were so partisan they could not fairly weigh an issue. Their only motivation was “to embarrass & thwart.”
3. None who could benefit financially – Again, even honest men could not “act without bias” where money was to be made or lost.

Thirty six years later, in 1841, Harrison became the 9th President of the U.S., defeating Martin Van Buren. He died just 31 days after his inauguration and was succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, served one term as President, 1889-1893.

“Mr. Lee’s creative energy and talent were a major factor
in making this critical event the success it was.”
Program Coordinator, The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jefferson will make a significant contribution to your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Leadership, Politics Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

I will fail. Please forgive me. Part 12

I shall now enter [my second term as President] … , & shall proceed in the spirit of those principles which they have approved. I fear not that any motives of [self] interest may lead me astray. I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice. but the weaknesses of human nature, & the limits of my own understanding will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests. I shall need therefore all the indulgence which I have heretofore experienced from my constituents. the want of it will certainly not lessen with increasing years.
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Humble leaders know they can be prone to failure.
As Thomas Jefferson neared the end of his address, he pledged continued allegiance to the principles the voters approved. He knew of nothing that could dissuade him from those principles. He also understood “the weaknesses of human nature” and “the limits of my own understanding.” Those would cause him to make mistakes.

He asked that the grace shown him in the past would continue. Even worse, the aging process (he was almost 62, average life expectancy for a male at the time) would put him in need of even more grace for his errors.

“For an inspirational message with meaningful content, and one that is also entertaining,
we highly recommend Patrick Lee!”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
We come highly recommended!
Invite us to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, go to FoundersArchives.gov. Cut a few words from the letter in the post, paste them into the search box at the top, with beginning and ending quotation marks, and click the GO button. The correct letter … should … come up.
Or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Human nature, Leadership Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Your destiny is to serve the public! It is obvious.

I am sensible after the measures you have taken for getting into a different line of business, that it will be a great sacrifice on your part, and presents from the season & other circumstances serious difficulties. but some men are born for the public. nature by fitting them for the service of the human race on a broad scale, has stamped them with the evidences of her destination & their duty.
To James Monroe, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Those gifted with skills have a duty to lead, regardless of sacrifice.
A previous post detailed the President’s nomination of James Monroe (1758-1831) as ambassador to France and his unwillingness to let Monroe decline. In this letter, Jefferson buttressed case.

After outlining the positives of Monroe’s appointment and the disastrous results should he decline, and acknowledging the personal hardship this would cause, Jefferson got to the bottom line of his argument: Monroe was destined for public service and leadership. Nature obviously had gifted him to serve “on a broad scale” and made that gifting evident. It was both Monroe’s duty and destiny to fulfill that role.

I don’t recall Jefferson ever admitting the same destiny about himself, but it was obvious he was fulfilling that role, too. Had he thought only of himself, he would have happily pursued a private life at Monticello with his family, farm and books. Nature had other plans for him, and he acquiesced to a destiny different from the one he desired. Only when his Presidency was completed in 1809 (at age 66) did he allow himself to indulge those personal desires for the remaining years of his life.

“Your presentation … was outstanding! …
we wanted an upbeat kind of talk. That’s exactly what you gave us.”
Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central New York Chapter
Does your audience need an outstanding and upbeat presentation?
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Leadership, Personal preferences, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , , , , |

It is not personal. It is business. It is life.

I have duly recieved your favor of the 7th. and have taken care that it shall be communicated to the Secretary at war, within whose province it is to consider of the best means of promoting the public interest within his department, and of the agents whom it is best to employ … the duty is a very painful one, which devolves on the Executive [President], of naming those on whom the reductions are to fall which have been prescribed by the law. we trust to the liberality of those on whom the lot falls, to consider the agency of the Executive as a general not personal thing, and that they will meet it, as they would any other of the numerous casualties to which we are exposed in our passage through life.
To Frances Mentges, July 15, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Tough minded leaders accept the good and bad effects of their decisions.
Mentges, now unemployed, had been a U.S. military agent and buyer, distinguishing himself by his diligence and economy. In two pleading letters, he asked the President’s help in recovering $1,700 in unpaid commissions. He also begged for a government job, or he would have to sell his land to support himself, an asset he needed for old age.

With regard to unpaid commissions, Jefferson delegated the decision to the proper subordinate, his Secretary of War. Employment prospects were slim, as the President was reducing the size of the military. Down-sizing was a painful duty for him, because he knew what job losses meant to those affected.

He trusted in the “liberality” of those affected by loss of employment, that they would see it as necessary but not personal. He asked Mentges to treat the setback as he would any other, just one of the “numerous casualties” that come with life.

“On behalf of the WMTA, I would like to say how much we enjoyed
your leadership addresses as Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone.”
Past President, Washington Municipal Treasurer’s Association
Thomas Jefferson (& Daniel Boone) want to share their leadership with your audience!
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Leadership, Military / Militia, Presidency Tagged , , , , , , , |

Serve not at my command but only as you see fit.

If I can at any time be of any Service to you, I hope you will command me, and permit me to assure you, it will give me unmixed pleasure to Serve you at any time
William Clark, Louisville, to Thomas Jefferson, June 8, 1808

… the world has, of right, no further claims on yourself & Govr Lewis, but such as you may voluntarily render according to your convenience or as they may make it your interest.
To William Clark, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Extraordinary leadership earns one the right to say no.
In 1803, President Jefferson commissioned his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition of discovery though Louisiana and on to the western sea. Lewis wanted a co-commander, and he chose a close friend from army days, William Clark of Kentucky. Together, the two men successfully completed Jefferson’s assignment, leading a company of about 30 in a danger-filled 2 1/2 year journey through the wilderness to the Pacific Ocean and back.

After their return, the President named Clark Brigadier General of the militia and principal Indian agent for northern Louisiana. In his 1808 letter, Clark told the President he was about to leave for St. Louis to take up his new duties. He offered, with “unmixed pleasure,” to be at Jefferson’s command for any future service.

Clark’s letter was delayed 13 months in its delivery, and it was three more months before the retired President could respond. He turned aside Clark’s offer to serve wherever commanded. The service he had already given his country earned Clark the unqualified right to say no, unless it was convenient or personally desirable for him to say yes.

“Your talent and creativity have truly been assets in our marketing efforts.”
Executive Director, Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Mr. Jefferson will be an asset to your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Leadership Tagged , , , , , , , |

THIS part of the job is easy. THAT part is very hard.

… your position has already probably proved to you that while the real business of conducting the affairs of our constituents is plain & easy, that of deciding by whom they shall be conducted is most painful & perplexing. it is the case of one loaf and ten men wanting bread: and we have not the gift of multiplying them.
To Joseph Bloomfield, December 5, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are vexed by personnel issues.
Bloomfield, the new Republican governor of New Jersey, asked a favor of the President, the subject of the next post. Jefferson began his reply affirming his high regard for anything Bloomfield would send his way. Then he had a little “shop talk” with his fellow office-holder.

Bloomfield’s letter was about someone seeking a government job. Jefferson commiserated with his fellow office-holder with two observations they both knew:
1. WHAT should be done to aid their constituents was “plain & easy.”
2. Choosing WHO should do that work was “most painful & perplexing.”

Jefferson likened it to having 10 hungry men and only enough food for one. Drawing on a Biblical parallel, he admitted he lacked the miraculous means to turn one person’s food into a feast for 10.

Jefferson always found that deciding the personnel issues of governing was far more stressing than the problems to be solved.

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude
for your inspirational presentation …”
Conference Chair, Missouri Council for Exceptional Children
Mr. Jefferson will inspire your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Leadership, Politics Tagged , , , , , , |

Weak leaders avoid the tough calls.

I have known mr Page from the time we were boys & classmates together, & love him as a brother. but I have always known him the worst judge of man existing. he has fallen a sacrifice to the ease with which he gives his confidence to those who deserve it not.
To Albert Gallatin, August 28, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders can’t avoid tough choices just to please people.
Jefferson sought opinions from three men about the qualifications of a certain individual for an appointment to a federal office. One of those three was fellow Virginian John Page (1743-1808), his oldest friend. They had been close since their student days at the College of William and Mary, 40 years before.

It appears that Page had already responded with a recommendation for the man being considered even though Page had not met him. Jefferson expected the other two replies soon. He affirmed his affection for Page, but said he was a poor choice of character. Page found it easier to avoid tough calls and praise people whether they deserved it or not.

[We] hired Mr. Patrick Lee to perform as Thomas Jefferson
at our regional meetings around the state …
The result was far beyond our expectations.”
Executive Vice President, Missouri Bankers Association
Mr. Jefferson will exceed your expectations!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Leadership, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , |

This is what I think. You decide.

have we a right to give passages generally to private individuals whenever a public vessel is passing from one place to another? … these are my hasty thoughts on the subject. be so good as to weigh & correct them, & do in it what you think right.—
To James Madison, August 22, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders let trusted subordinates make their own decisions.
Jefferson wrote to his Secretary of State about a number of issues in this letter. One was the prickly matter of granting permission to a private individual to travel on an American ship as if he had some kind of official status.
Jefferson gave his off-the-cuff thoughts. He invited his dear friend and trusted lieutenant Madison to review them, correct where he was wrong, and make whatever decision he thought best.

“I want to express my thanks to you
for your outstanding presentation …
Program Co-Chair, Missouri Organization for Clinical Laboratory Science
Mr. Jefferson will make an outstanding presentation for your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Leadership Tagged , , , , , , , |

I serve you best by saying no.

I am duly sensible of the proof of confidence you are so good as to repose in me, resulting from the wish you express that I should undertake the guardianship of yourself & sisters. but since the year 1775. I have invariably declined guardianships & exrships [executorships] even for my nearest friends because I have never been master of my own time, and that an undertaking of that kind must have been to the injury of the persons interested … I am confident I serve you in not undertaking the office.
To Charles Wyndham Grymes, May 7, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders limit the areas where they will serve.
Mr. Grimes and his two sisters were the grandchildren of the late Ariana Randolph, wife of patriot Edmund Randolph. British agents handling her estate were persuaded by correspondence in Mrs. Randolph’s files that she wanted Jefferson to be her grandchildren’s guardian and wrote him to that effect.
Jefferson replied directly to the grandson, thanking him for the honor and confidence expressed, yet he could not take the assignment. For over 25 years, he had declined guardianships and executorships, even for his best friends. As a public man, he knew his time was not his own, and he could not give that legal work the prompt attention it deserved.
Agreeing to their request would cause them loss. Declining was the best service he could render.

“Thank you for making our conference a resounding success.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
Mr. Jefferson will contribute to the success of your conference.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Leadership, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |