The Dream Team: What The Founding Fathers Teach Us About Successful Teams
Happy 243rd birthday America! If ESPN and social media (that would be something) were around to cover the events leading up to our independence from Great Britain the odds would have been very much against us. While events and situations over a roller coaster timeline led up to the momentous occasion of Bruce Springsteen belting out “Born in the U.S.A.” we can’t forget the people that comprised the original dream team which is something ESPN would have definitely covered if around.
We have a fascination with fireworks, grilling food while watching people gorge themselves with hot dogs, and a number other American events, but when you really think about it the work done by the founding fathers who decided to put their very lives on the line by placing their signature down created a ripple effect like we have not seen the likes of.
This collection of men were original thinkers to the fullest extent. I can’t imagine what they must have been going through, but the traits they brought were all essential in the creation of the Declaration of Independence. James Madison put this through in a letter to a friend that many others were probably also thinking when he said "There is something at hand that shall greatly augment the history of the world.". Isn’t that what many feel when they are about to do something great.
A few things stood out to me when learning about each of the founding father. These things I believe also apply to teams today of all types.
Experience > Age
Do not let the white wigs fool you. The average age of the founding founders was 44 years old. The age factor doesn’t automatically equate to wisdom and grit. This team was compromised of varying ages and that was smart to not have everyone from the same birth year lead the charge it did allow for the differing levels of experience the individuals had. They all had come from different backgrounds, states (countries even besides Great Britain), family status, and profession as not every founding father was a politician. It was the experience the team members brought that allowed for great success.
Education often is big experience influencer. Benjamin Rush, nicknamed the “Father of American Psychiatry”, received his Bachelors of Arts for law from the College of New Jersey at the ripe old age of 14. He eventually added on to his education by earning his masters for being a physician. While many attended prestigious places of higher education such as Harvard, Princeton, William and Mary, or some European school there were some who had a different route of learning. Alexander Hamilton came to America at the age of 16 for the purpose of obtaining an education, but stepped away after some time to work on being self-made. He worked under George Washington and gained life experience. James Monroe attended William and Mary for just one year before deciding he wanted to get in the fight for freedom. John Marshall was one of many who received much of his education from what is now referred to as home school.
Education is constantly under attack. What is highly valued for any team is experience which is more important to a team than the age. Experience is a wonderful thing as it has no age or height restriction. Individuals can work to gain experience at any point. They have to make the jump to enhancing their abilities. Looking at sports all teams crave to add that person to their team that has the championship experience. They know that all the talent in the world can be affected without influence of experience. When you bring a team together that employs the collective experience it. Experience builds character. Value experience, and differing experience, when creating the best team and not forcing age restriction.
News flash. All great teams are not made up entirely of individuals who are great start to finish. Our founding fathers were a collection of highly successful members of society, but also an accumulation of failure. Sam Adams was a businessman in his area and many of his ventures led to severely unsuccessful attempts. Adams’ became the business failure that orchestrated the famed Boston Tea Party. John Henry infamous for his quote “Give me liberty or give me death!” might have opted for something along the lines of “Give me liberty…from bankrupting my dad’s store I run!”. Henry showed prestige when his dad gave him the role of running the store at fifteen years old. Shortly after receiving the reigns it flopped. Henry was a go getter and pursued ways to support himself and later his family by becoming a tobacco farmer and similar to the store the efforts went backwards. Crazy to think that before Henry ended up in law he was by most reports a colossal failure. Thomas Paine is another example and while you certainly know of his sensical abilities (Paine wrote ‘Common Sense”) he was a businessman who held a stay ropes business that became bankrupted.
Failures can be as big as bankruptcy or as little as losing a item needed for a big event. Failure similar to success is accompanied by everyone’s own definition. Teams are made from failure. There is also pivotal moment that teams face that allow them to regain progress or stay in defeat. Using the failures drove many of these founding fathers to become better for the moment in 1776. Having some “failures” on a team is good. You want to have those people that have the taste of negative, but the ambition for success.
Creatives - Entrepreneurs
One trait that at first unearthed to me was that most all of the founding fathers were in some way an entrepreneur. The thought of being an entrepreneur goes with the self-created work efforts to design, organize, and sustain business work. We are all entrepreneurs of our own personal brands and the founding fathers all shared the characteristic of creating success in the colonial world through some form of business. The team of founding fathers then all came together with a drive which all teams require. They had tremendous creativity that allowed them to engineer the creation of a country. They saw ways to gain profit and were more than likely excellent critical thinkers/problem solvers who would do just about whatever it took to find the extra penny to be made. Ben Franklin who had lived a long and exploratory life up until this point was the inventor of many creations. His viewpoint from a creative standpoint allowed him and others to contribute to the team and make it achieve the goals set forth.
For teams to be successful they must take the mindset of an entrepreneur. The goals of every team will look different, but be the same in terms of the desire to accomplish something great. Team members who also have the creative trait make their teams better by the problem solving skills it delivers. Teams will often rise or sink to the levels of their collective creativity. Teams are either moving ahead or falling behind and the creative genius that is each team dictates much of that. Teams that have creativity must hone it, teams with some creativity must develop it, and team with zero creativity MUST find it.
Writing + Speaking = Communicator
If you look at each of the founding fathers there is a 99.9% chance you will find something in their background that acknowledges some policy, doctrine, bill, or law they authored or something about they spoke about. Every single founding father was highly skilled as a writer or a public speaker. They knew how to communicate to others. The reason they were in the group was they had been sent by their states. Others held them in high regard because of their abilities. The founding fathers team was made up of a collection of outstanding communicators which enables them to be the voice, and words, for American independence. The greatest government document of law was authored by these men. We owe our Declaration of Independence and Constitution to these writers. While they all held strong opinions and voices, except George Washington who was classic last to speak leader, they knew how to conceptualize things into words crafted both for paper and verbal talk. This aspect of the founding fathers team cannot be overlooked. While many skills and talents are crucial they all carried the ability to write and speak.
Ben Franklin writing development is one to look at for inspiration. At a young age Ben was told by his dad that his writing ability was very poor. Ben then took the prompt to develop this necessary skill by searching for the best books available. Ben would then read the authors writings and go line by line. For each line of the original piece he would write what he thought it meant. Line by line he did this to develop. Great advice when trying to be a better writer, or at any skill, is to write and write more. Franklin progressed from the interpretation to actually taking the articles he would read and completely rewrite the article in his own wording so he could then compare his against the original to see where he needed to get better. Commentaries on Franklin’s writing development cited he identified his vocabulary as a barrier holding him back, so in Ben Franklin fashion he worked at developing this skill area. Ben Franklin realized the importance of being able to write and how that would be an asset to whatever team he could influence.
Teams require great and effective communication, but teams are often left with unskilled writers and orators. To build great teams there must be members included who are able to write and speak. Those who are skilled can work at developing those who struggle, but at the end of the day if a individual cannot write or speak they will only provide resistance to the teams pursuits.
The founding fathers did not reach their place in American history on mere happenstance. They all worked to get to that room and earn the trust of their countrymen. Laziness was certainly not a trait you would find on this team. There is a reason as well just about all of the founding fathers held some government leadership position in their lifetime. At this point in history in 1776 there was no colony group that ever successfully separated from their parent nation. It was from the accumulation of work from before reality of creating an independent nation through the Revolutionary War that allowed this team to be as successful as it was. With the time they lived in, 1700’s, there was clearly not the same medical knowledge as today. It was not uncommon for people to die at birth or before living a long life. The backstory to many of these founding fathers included fathers dying at a young age. John Hancock’s dad died as a young child. George Mason’s dad past away when he was only ten years old. They didn’t always have someone to look up to and instill the work ethic. The founding fathers all had to develop the intrinsic drive to be great on their own. This wasn’t the “Redeem Team” of founding fathers, this was the original team. To be great they all had to work.
Examples from the founding father’s lives account for their tremendous work ethic. There has never been a successful team that didn’t have work ethic. George Washington for instance was avidly known for working six days a week and a willing individual to jump into any task on his land that needed to be done. This is also why his soldiers adored him. Team members always get behind someone who is working hard. Washington also had the reputation of being a master at growing tobacco, stock raising, and land surveying. You only achieve mastery status by having an ability to work and work.
Tim Notke might have one of the best and most accurate quotes of all time. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”. The founding fathers were up against the world’s giant. The only chance this team had was to work harder than anyone else. Team’s of all forms must encapsulate this as well. The collection of individuals must believe in working hard. In a non-selfish way it requires personal work and then combining it with work ethic for what the overall team needs.
Great teams have nothing on the founding fathers of these United States of America. Their collective work shaped everything that we have today, establishing the world power which is ironic as that is who they helped defeat. We could learn a tremendous amount from this group of individuals. This dream team exemplified the qualities our teams should have today. Many great MVP caliber people, but a team was formed and it succeeded in highest regard. In celebrating our great nation’s birthday this week let’s remember them with the united teams we are building and a part of. Maybe we don’t go around looking for the next George Washington or the Thomas Jefferson, but our teams should be a reflection of them and continuous the great things they have done!