Tag Archives: Personnel

I need another set of eyes on this!

Reynolds, collector of York, is dead, and Wm. Carey of that place is recommended very strongly by mr Shields. tho’ I have great confidence in mr Shields’s recommendation, yet as the best men some times see characters thro’ the false medium of friendship I pray you to make what enquiry you can in Richmond & communicate it to me.
To Governor James Monroe, September 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders seek more than just a single recommendation.
William Reynolds, recently deceased, had held the position of Collector of Revenue at Yorktown since 1794. Samuel Sheilds wrote a glowing recommendation on behalf of William Carey to succeed Reynolds.

While affirming his confidence in Mr. Sheilds, Jefferson wanted other perspectives on this potential appointee. He needed assurance that Sheilds’ recommendation wasn’t affected by the “false medium of friendship.” Thus, the President sought input from another trusted source, Virginia’s governor.

Carey was appointed, but for some reason, resigned the position within a month.

“All were delighted with your well-chosen words of wisdom …
We heard nothing but praise from the audience members.”
Policy Director/Conference Coordinator, Washington State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson is most interested in sharing his wisdom 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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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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