Tag Archives: Human Resources

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.
However, we were delighted to see a very professional and accurate portrayal…”

Executive Director, MO Society of Professional Surveyors
Yes! An accurate, professional and inspiring portrayal awaits your audience!
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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]
marks the fourth FEB you have addressed.
We can understand why and would highly recommend your presentation to others.”

Executive Director, New Mexico FEB
Mr. Jefferson makes a very good impression!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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.

” … your performance and address held them spellbound.”
Director of Operations, Indiana Telecommunications Association
Let Thomas Jefferson bind a spell on your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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
Mr. Jefferson looks forward to sharing his time, talent and knowledge with your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Your eyes make me happy!

I am extremely happy when I can recieve recommendations for office from characters in whom I have such entire confidence; as nothing chagrins me so much as when I have been led to an injudicious appointment … the other duties of administration are easy in comparison with this. the appointment to office, where one cannot see but with the eyes of others, is far the most difficult of my duties.
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need and appreciate sound input from others.
Kirby had recommended a trusted acquaintance for an opening on Connecticut’s Bankruptcy Commission. He cited the man’s background, credentials and qualifications. Jefferson trusted Kirby and was effusive in his appreciation for Kirby’s insight.

Personnel issues were always the most vexing for Jefferson, far more difficult than administrative ones. He had to rely on others’ advice for many appointments and had been burned when some recommendations turned out to be faulty. Kirby’s advice would protect him from that fate and serve the public interest well.

“Your presentation on Thomas Jefferson was outstanding
and very realistic.”
Utah Council of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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A job very well done deserves high praise, even belatedly!

… I must supply now in writing, what I then could not express, the sense of my attachment to you & satisfaction with your services. they were faithful, & skilful, and your whole conduct so marked with good humour, industry, sobriety & economy as never to have given me one moment’s dissatisfaction: and indeed were I to be again in a situation to need services of the same kind, yours would be more acceptable to me than those of any person living. I have thought it my duty thus to declare what is just & true respecting you …
To Etienne Lemaire, March 16, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders value gifted employees and tell them so.
Lemaire was the manager of the President’s House during Jefferson’s administrations, overseeing the staff and meal preparations. Earlier in this letter, Jefferson apologized for saying only “Adieu” when he left Washington City. He explained that he was overcome at the prospect of returning to his family at Monticello and once again having a life of his own that “goodbye” was all he could manage for those who had served him so well.

Jefferson now corrected that oversight with flowing praise for Lemaire’s skilled and faithful service. He cited the specifics of Lemaire’s character and should the need arise, would hire him again above all others.

He closed with a request to know Lemaire’s new address that he might write him and invited his butler’s correspondence, as well.

“The Missouri Bar will undoubtedly invite Mr. Lee to future functions,
and we recommend him highly.”
Director of Law-Related Education, The Missouri Bar
If Mr. Jefferson can please lawyers, he can certainly please your members!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Why I keep my sources confidential

Th: Jefferson presents his respects … & regrets that it is not consistent with the rule he lays down for his own conduct to communicate to them the papers asked for in their note of the 27th. applications to him for office, & information given him as to the character of applicants, he considers as confidential, to be used only for his own government … he suffers these papers to go to no office, but keeps them with the most private of his own in order that those who will assist him with information may be assured they do it with safety …
To Joseph Stanton, March 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders apply the rules evenly and without exception.
Stanton, along with Benjamin Howland, asked the President for any information he had gathered on them in regard to their application for employment. Jefferson said no, citing his across-the-board policy. He regarded such information as confidential and kept it under his personal control. Only those with a need-to-know would ever see it.
Jefferson offered to oblige in other matters if it could be done “with propriety,” but he would not break this rule, which he applied in all cases. He closed by assuring Stanton and Howland of his respect.

“We could not have asked for a better keynote presenter
to set the tone for our conference theme, ‘Prepared to Lead.'”
Executive Director, Nevada Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will firmly establish your theme with your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I am only a machine.

.. it is true that this [skill] had not always been observed as the principle of appointment, but it was thought best to follow the best examples … it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.
To Benjamin Rush, June 13, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
When can a leader appoint a friend to a job?
Jefferson wrote to one old friend explaining his thinking in appointing another friend as Director of the Mint. The appointee was noted mathematician Robert Patterson. (Patterson was one of the scholars. who tutored Meriwether Lewis prior to his epic journey west. So was Dr. Rush. Both did so at Jefferson’s request.)

Jefferson cited the appointments of two men, Isaac Newton in England and David Rittenhouse in America, as examples of skilled mathematicians appointed to positions that demanded such skills. Both men were well-received by their countrymen. Patterson would be similarly approved.

Jefferson hated the personnel aspect of his job and sought cover by comparing himself to a medical examiner. As that one was charged with dissecting dead bodies, Jefferson was required to dissect live ones, examining what he found within, looking for fitness for office. The Constitution turned him into nothing more than “a machine.” If he found a man fit, as he did Patterson, his friendship with the man was no longer a factor.

“He was fantastic … [and] commanded the surveyor’s immediate attention.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will cause your audience members to set their cell phones aside.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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
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The hangman just does his job.

Had you 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 and ten wanting bread. Nine must be disappointed, perhaps become secret, if not open enemies. 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 and made my duty. I make up my mind to it therefore, & abandon all regard to consequences. Accept my salutations & assurances of respect.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Personnel decisions vex all leaders!
Larkin, a political supporter in Virginia, had twice written the President, asking for a job and received no reply. In a third letter, he expressed dismay at the lack of a response. Larkin thought his years of service to the nation merited at least an answer, if not a job.

In an earlier part of this letter, Jefferson explained Larkin’s failure to receive the appointment he sought was an answer. The President went on to explain one of the most difficult parts of his job was disappointing people who sought employment.
Great issues facing the country posed little difficulty, because wise, experienced men knew what to do. Personnel issues were another matter entirely. Only one person could be appointed per job, and the many not chosen would be disappointed. The losers, who might have been allies, could become private foes, maybe even public ones.

In such matters, Jefferson compared himself to the hangman. As someone had to do that unpleasant job, he had to do his, each time rewarding one and disappointing many. It came with the territory of being a leader. He accepted the responsibility and refused to worry about the consequences.

“ … please accept this letter of thanks and appreciation
for your outstanding presentation … “
University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience, too!
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739
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