Recently I completed reading David McCulloughs best-selling book “John Adams.” While the book is about President John Adams, it also provides insight into the founding of our nation well beyond anything contained in our school history books.
McCullough details and documents the struggle, suffering, intrigue and even the treachery associated with the events leading up to the creation of the United States, and the events associated with some of the first presidencies. It was a time when the challenges of leadership were formidable.
But there were lighter moments that were uplifting as well. Early in the book McCullough relates that among Adams most cherished moments were those times when, in the evenings, he could sit with his clay pipe and a glass of Madeira and a good book. In fact, it sounded so good to me that I went out and bought a bottle of Madeira and a couple of fine cigars (clay pipes not being readily available) so that I might create a similar experience.
Adams was right; as I finished the book, with cigar and Madeira, it sort of put me in touch with him as I read of his trials and tribulations here and abroad.
For the most part, though, McCulloughs tome dealt with more serious matters. There are many lessons to be learned from the life of John Adams and this book. But there was one particular point that impressed me as being of great importance to us today. In the beginning, our nation was–to say the least–precarious. The people were divided into three very diverse groups insofar as the kind of government desired. The leaders were squabbling among themselves and self-interests were inhibiting progress.
But there was one person who was able to hold himself above the fray and, by dint of his own conviction and prestige, was able to pull the fractious parties together to form a nation. That person was, of course, George Washington who historians, as well as McCullough, credit with doing what no other person could have done.
The key element to Washingtons leadership was that, as much as he loved his home state of Virginia, he believed that the nation was more important than its individual colonies. While others were tending to local or self-interests, he held the vision that the “union” was the more important institution. Absent that kind of leadership, we may never have become the nation we are today.
There is, I believe, a lesson in this, which can be of value to our business today. We are not, as an industry or business, struggling in a formative way, as were the colonies in 1776, but we are nevertheless in a precarious state. Their problem was to become united. Today our problem is to stay united. There is ample evidence to support the notion that we are drifting apart and are on what I believe to be a destructive course. Indicators of this are:
–The decline in membership in the American Council of Life Insurers. The ACLI has lost powerful members who heretofore provided great leadership. CEOs of member companies are delegating too much of ACLI activities to their deputies. This gives the appearance of a lack of interest.
–The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors has lost 50% of its membership (presently at 72,000, down from a high of 144,000). Reports indicate their finances are in disarray, largely from this obvious drop in support.