4 Inspiring Quotes for Leaders from America’s Founding Fathers

We can learn a lot about leadership from the men and women who fought for our country’s independence and shaped its early course through history. It’s rare these days that federal employees are called on to literally take up arms and sacrifice their lives during the daily practice of democracy – but moral conviction and the courage to take a stand are still desperately needed.

The values that made our founding fathers into great leaders still ring true today. Over the Fourth of July holiday, take a moment to reflect on what it takes to be a leader – whether you’re heading up a department, taking charge of a project, or just spearheading a team of one.

Aim for excellence, not fame: Benjamin Franklin

“Strive to be the greatest man in your country, and you may be disappointed. Strive to be the best and you may succeed: he may well win the race that runs by himself.”

Authentic leaders aren’t motivated by fame and fortune – rather, what drives them is a personal standard of excellence. Authentic leaders put themselves at the service of the mission, subsuming their desire for recognition in order to serve as best they can.

It’s easy to spot the difference. Think of your favorite professor, your most respected mentor, your most admired political leader – most likely they’re the ones who do their work and do it well, rather than constantly chasing after the limelight.

Take a look at your own motivations:

Are you diluting your impact by constantly looking for validation in the eyes of others? Or, are you channeling every ounce of energy into the work at hand?

Are you setting high standards for keeping up appearances? Or, are you raising the bar on the level of work you do?

Of course, one of the byproducts of building a reputation for excellence is often getting recognition – but if fame and glory is the goal, it will show to the detriment of your work.

Set your mind to achieving: Thomas Jefferson

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Mindset doesn’t come pre-programmed into us. It’s as though our attitudes are like a car radio on “scan.” It’s constantly picking up signals from our environment and reflecting them back at us – everything from the frustration of a morning’s rough commute to the surprise of a stranger buying your coffee.

There’s this funny thing about mindset, though: like a car radio, we can pick the station we want to listen to. But we have to do it intentionally.

Authentic leaders have the self-awareness to foster the right mindset. They know that their attitude directly affects their results, and they choose to set their minds to achieving great ones.

Unless you make an intentional choice to have a positive outlook, you’re letting your mood be dictated by whatever station is playing at the moment. Your desired outcome will be haphazard at best.

Lead, no matter your position: John Quincy Adams

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

You don’t need to wait for someone to give you a title before you can consider yourself a leader. Each of us, no matter our position, can choose to inspire confidence and trust in others.

None of us operates in a vacuum – in every daily interaction we’re making a mark on those around us. It’s your choice. Do you want your contribution to disparage and hinder others? Or do you want to inspire others to “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more?”

Along those same lines, great leaders don’t just show their true colors when they’re in leadership roles. Every action you take, from how you merge in traffic to how you treat your waitress is a thread in the Tapestry of You. Strive to be an inspiration in every aspect of your life.

Be true to your conscience: George Washington

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

Like mindset, conscience is something that must be nurtured. As humans, it’s too easy for our moral compasses to slip ever so slightly if we don’t keep an eye on them. An inch here, an inch there, and suddenly we’re so far from where we started.

I love the phrase “little spark of celestial fire.” Conscience is more than a nagging voice, or a knowledge of right and wrong – it’s a tiny flame that connects us to something beyond ourselves. Whether you believe that “something” is a greater spiritual realm or a humanistic responsibility, conscience is that point which tethers us.

Running headlong through the business of day-to-day life without taking time to check in can be a trap for even the most well-meaning person. Great leaders practice self-reflection in order to keep themselves from straying too far off course. They demand excellence not only in their work, attitude, and personal life – but also in their desire to do what’s right.

What are your favorite inspirational quotes this Fourth of July? Leave them in the comments.

Recommended Reading for Leaders over the Fourth of July

7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence by John Antal

The Founding Fathers on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips

Revolutionary Strategies of the Founding Fathers by Scott Thorpe

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

richard. regan

As one of the few American Indians/Alaska Native in the federal government and a member of a racial group that has the lowest engagement scores in the federal government, as well as being the most under paid, lowest graded and least represented racial group in management levels, I was quite taken back by your notion that the values of our Founding Fathers still resonate today.

What could any American Indian/Alaska Native have in common with these men whose non-inclusive leadership planted the seeds for: (1) Our permanent standing on the margin of society; (2) The indelible stain of manifest destiny; (3) Lost language and culture; (4) Land theft and diminished ecosystems and (5) Assimilation, mass genocide and the systematic colonization of another race of people.

Here is the evidence.

Benjamin Franklin, who spent alot of time observing the democratic operations of the the Iroquois stated: “It would be a strange thing if 6 nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted ages and appears insoluble.”

George Washington who referred to indigenous people as “wolves and beasts and essentially untameable.”

How about Thomas Jefferson who referenced native people as “nothing human except the the shape.”

Finally, the Declaration of Independence that these Founding Fathers were responsible for labeled our country’s first citizens as “merciless Indian savages.”

The unconscious bias and white privilege in this post does not send a message of inclusivity to American Indians/Alaska Natives.

What values to I support on this July 4th? How about the value that we respect everyone personal stories in the federal government particularly those that have been diminished in the past.

richard. regan

There is another element of bias in this post. What does the writer mean when she says America? Is she referring to the country or the continent. Could she be referring to North American, South America or Central America?

The frequent use of the term “America” rather that United States of America reinforces a conscious bias against people from the Spanish speaking part of the world that an informal order of the Americas exists with the USA’s “America” on top.

As the USA’s population diversifies, and the federal government competes for the best talent, it is necessary for us to recognize how language shapes perceptions. If inclusion is to follow this diversity, then we need a view of world that understands the the USA does not have a monopoly on the term America.