t was 1776, June. The Continental Congress was scheduled to meet in July to discuss the creation of a document that would explain their rationale for the war to break from British control of the colonies that had begun a year earlier. This new nation, freshly aware of the downside of a singular leader in King George, convened to discuss the foundation of their new experiment. Leadership was on their mind.
The unofficial leader of the group was John Adams, a lawyer from Massachusetts. He, along with four others, was placed on the committee to draft the new document. Everyone initially thought that Adams would be the primary author. Adams convinced the group instead to let Jefferson take the lead. Ben Franklin, the oldest member of the committee, and the other two men concurred. The rest is history. Jefferson composed his initial draft. Adams, Franklin and the others provided edits. The Congress met and with some revisions adopted what has come to be known as the Declaration of Independence.
The bedrock document begins with a critical foundational thought that will prove to shape the culture of this new nation. At the outset, the Declaration states that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endued with certain inalienable rights.” This statement on human rights was a stroke of genius that has never been surpassed. Though the equality of men was described as “self-evident,” we have since had to struggle for many years to see this equality realized. This document would be used many years later to argue the equality of black Americans, the rights of women to vote and other relevant issues of parity (like Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution). It continues to shape our lives today.
Living under the tyranny of a king can be oppressive. The colonists knew all too well that the singular leader George, so far removed from the American continent, did not understand the needs of the people in the colonies. His insistence on over-taxing the people who were unknown to and misunderstood by him seriously backfired. The group convened knew they didn’t want to replicate the problem of government by a king. Beginning that summer of 1776 and going forward to the Constitutional Convention of 1789, they designed a brilliant system of government that is arguably the best man-made form of government devised to date. One of the key aspects of their concept was that no one person would lead solo. The President would have executive authority but it would be checked by the power of the Congress and the Courts. The branches of the government would be balanced. They would check each other. What a brilliant solution to the question of governance.
What you may not have known or thought about is the composition of that Continental Congress and of the subcommittee that drafted the Declaration. Ben Franklin, an extroverted elder statesman and orator, had great and important influence in the Congress. Two other introverts, Jefferson and Adams, using their skills of deep thinking and written communication, would lead with quill and ink. The President of the Congress, a young extroverted merchant, would be the first to step forward and decisively put his John Hancock big and bold on the document.
This Continental Congress represents the balanced leadership we so desperately need in all spheres of life today. We need the decisiveness of Franklin and Hancock balanced with the carefulness of Jefferson and Adams. As you think about the leadership in your organization, does it embody this much needed balance that all great organizations and civilizations have enjoyed?
The most long-lasting, happy Indo-European cultures have always used these two classes to govern themselves—the warrior-kings [extroverted leaders] balanced by their royal or priestly advisors [introverted leaders] . . . To perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make. [Dr. Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person]