Leadership and the Constitutional Convention
Business guru Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) has a new book out titled The Little Big Things, 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. For me, what’s interesting about this book is that he reports that his inspiration to write it was my book, The Summer of 1787, The Men Who Invented the Constitution. What he writes is (pp. xxiii-xxiv):
The motivational engine, the final flash of realization about those ‘eternal basics’ can be traced to single, slim volume I read in 2008. . . The book, by David Stewart, is titled The Summer of 1787. It is a day-to-day account of the writing of the U.S. Constitution, a grand happending and a landmark in human history . . .
The frequently tawdry affairs chronicled in Mr. Stewart’s book made me laugh out loud at several occasions. . . and it reminded me of the decisive role in anything, including the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, of numerous ‘litle BIG things’ — like showing up, and showing up with a draft document in tow, and then sticking around from the opening to the closing bell. And bringing the right temperament to the party.
Like Peters, I have used the Constitutional Convention as a framework for studying leadership issues, through seminars and presentations to management groups.
Just last week, I spoke on this subject with senior government officials at an executive seminar run by the Brookings Institution.
The Convention provides a great laboratory for how leadership styles can vary, how (as Peters would have it) the little things matter, and what may well not work. Effectively shackled together for four sweltering months in the summer of 1787, the Convention delegates fought, swore at, and disparaged each other, but they also produced the longest-lived republic in human history. Not a bad place to look for lessons.
If you’re having a meeting, retreat or other seminar, a visit to the past might help focus your colleagues on the problems of the future. Keep me in mind!
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