Leadership Lessons from Alexander Hamilton

Nobody ever wakes up one day saying, ‘My greatest goal in life is to be less effective and uninfluential!’ Many people do eventually, however, fall into this trap. I think it is safe to say that most leaders in general desire greatness. for those they lead, which first includes includes themselves. They desire to make a positive difference. They strive for lasting change in personally and in those whom they influence. Alexander Hamilton, one of the greatest but but sometimes lesser talked about Founding Fathers of this, The United States of America, is a great example of just that.

So, what is the recipe to becoming an influential leader? For Hamilton it was persistence, patience and hard work.

Persistence

Hamilton was born in the British West Indies. His father left him at an early age and his mother died with him in her arms. He was given to his cousin to be raised and his cousin committed suicide. Feeling abandoned, he persisted toward success by reading everything thing in sight and sought refuge from his thoughts and depression by writing. It didn’t take long for the people in his village to recognize his greatness, so they took up a collection to send him to the main land to go to school. He applied to Princeton College, but was eventually rejected by the school because his goals were too lofty and his timeline unacceptable to complete his academics. He received a scholarship to King’s College (Columbia University) where he excelled and graduated early. This education and the relationships he garnered at King’s College propelled him onto the scene of The Revolution. Hamilton’s persistence through the constant loss and rejection in his youth conditioned him to become a mighty leader, a leader that would eventually command hundreds of men in General Washington’s army.

Patience

As an ambitious overachiever, Hamilton was often impatient in waiting to see the success of his efforts. As a young militiaman, Hamilton dreamed of being a martyr of the revolutionary war. He dreamed of leading his own troops into battle and dispatching the enemy to declare final independence from Britain. General Washington saw his ambition and hired him to be his personal secretary. Hamilton accepted the position graciously, thinking that he could eventually parlay this position into a role as a commander of his own army. During the battles of the revolution Hamilton impatiently lobbied Washington for his own command. The answer was always no. Finally, when the window opened and he felt certain he would get the call, Washington promoted General Lee to the position instead of Hamilton. During the battle of Monmouth, General Lee failed miserably and led his troops into certain death. Washington eventually had to promote Marquis de Lafayette to the position temporarily to dig the soldiers out of certain defeat. Shortly after this experience, when his nation needed him most, Hamilton was given his own troops to lead. Lafayette and Hamilton lead their underdog troops against the British at the battle of Yorktown. Yorktown famously became the war that finally broke Britain and the colonies apart, realizing the long dream of independence. Hamilton’s patience, although likely frustratingly tested at times, taught him many lessons and provided him and his troops the final opportunity to defeat Britain. 

 

Hard Work

As President George Washington’s ‘right hand man’ and Treasury Secretary, Hamilton lead the infant United States to more success than arguably any other member of the President’s cabinet. He was approached constantly by other members of the cabinet trying to deter his work from progressing. His main opponent throughout the majority of his career was Thomas Jefferson. By the end of his time with Washington, Hamilton: 1) was a member of the first constitutional convention, 2) wrote 51 of 85 installments of The Federalist Papers, 3) created a national bank, 4) founded the Coastguard, 5) created the US Mint, 6) lead the colonies to success against Britain in the pivotal battle of Yorktown, and 7) was instrumental in moving the US Capital from New York to Virginia. It would be impossible to accomplish those things, and many more not listed here, without dedicated hard work.

If you think about it, these three attributes that Hamilton showed are all closely related. Can you really be persistent in something without the patience to see it through? Doesn’t persistence without hard work start to become just idly waiting? And how often do we see hard work left to rot unfinished due to a lack of patience and/or persistence? Hamilton’s persistence, patience, and hard work paved the way for the colonies to finally declare their independence from Britain. Hamilton’s example lead many of the colonists to follow his lead. In the Election of 1800 between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson the results were a tie. In a matter of a tie, the vote trickled down to the sitting congress. After 35 separate full votes, the congress finally turned to Hamilton for his advice. Hamilton and Jefferson had been political enemies for years, but in this circumstance Hamilton thought that Jefferson was the better choice for the young country. He convinced his Federalist brothers in congress to vote for the Democratic Republican, Jefferson instead of his counterpart, Aaron Burr. Thomas Jefferson won the election upon Hamilton’s recommendation even though they had been sworn enemies for years. Hamilton’s leadership was bulletproof. Even though his decision to recommend Jefferson was almost 100% against his party’s beliefs, his fellow federalists trusted his leadership to the core and voted for Jefferson. This choice shaped the future of the United States of America forever. Hamilton’s leadership helped the United States to be the country that it is today.

 

These three traits, along with several others are discussed in our flagship book, “The Leadership Revolution“.

December 3, 2018

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