Happy Independence Day – a holiday we owe to the visionary signers of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. From the youngest to the oldest - Edward Rutledge was only 26 years old at the time and Ben Franklin was 70 - the signers were people who took the long view. They thought in terms of the distant future; in terms of years and generations, not news cycles. Because of their long view, their leadership was transformative.
We would do well to learn from their example.
The remarkable 18th century individuals who gave America freedom were, like other great leaders who took the long view, people who never lost sight of their primary ideals and principles. Although they were never rigid – compromise is always needed for effective democratic leadership – they avoided distraction and petty entanglements. There would be no American democracy without them.
Models of people with long views are found in other times and places, as well. Perhaps the best known 20th century transformative leader is South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. His long view sustained him through 27 years of imprisonment until his vision for the country was actualized by the abolition of apartheid, and his election as president. Mandela stepped down from the presidency after one term, an act that led to praise from Americans on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. President Obama and Charles Krauthammer both compared Mandela to George Washington for stepping away from power. Krauthammer wrote, “That’s George Washington. That does not happen often in Africa or anywhere. He never took the power to his head. He never was intoxicated by it. And the example he set is extremely unusual and probably the most lasting to his country.”
People who take the long view are not distracted by ego, power, or petty conflict. We need more leaders like that.
If you want to refresh yourself about the meaning of Independence Day and the value of long-view leadership, read Natan Sharansky’s Fear No Evil and The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom To Overcome Tyranny and Terror. The first is a memoir of oppression in the Soviet Union, where Sharansky spent 9 years in prisons and gulag. The second book explains the beliefs that sustained him then, and which have motivated him since, in his work as an Israeli political leader.
Any discussion of contemporary leaders with a long view must include Aung San Suu Kyi, who became Myanmar’s leader in 2015, after 15 years of house arrest under her country’s military dictatorship.
None of these people is perfect. They were and are human, flawed individuals like the rest of us. What makes them extraordinary, and defines them as models of leadership is their ability to maintain focus on their values with patience and peacefulness.
Great leaders – indeed, great human beings – avoid distraction and petty conflict.
On this Independence Day holiday let’s be thankful for America’s founders and their long view. Let us resolve to seek and support leaders like them.
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