Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Description of a Leader: Thomas Jefferson

Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Jon Meacham wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson titled: The Art of Power.  A passage in the prologue framed the leader's challenge of addressing multiple levels of conflict and the manner in which Thomas Jefferson approached this leadership dilemma:

"He had a defining vision, a compelling goal - the survival and success of popular government in America.  Jefferson believed the will of an educated, enlightened majority should prevail.  His opponents had less faith in the people, worrying that the broad American public might be unequal to self-government. Jefferson thought that same public was the salvation of liberty, the soul of the nation, and the hope of the republic.

In pursuit of his ends, Jefferson sought, acquired, and wielded power, which is the bending of the world to one's will, the remaking of reality in one's own image.  Our greatest leaders are neither dreamers nor dictators:  They are, like Jefferson, those who articulate national aspirations yet master the mechanics of influences and know when to depart from dogma.  Jefferson had a remarkable capacity to marshal ideas and to move men, to balance the inspirational and the pragmatic.  To realize his vision, they compromised and improvised.  The willingness to what he needed to do in a given moment makes him an elusive historical figure.  Yet in the real world, in real time, when he was charged with safety of the country, his creative flexibility made him a transformative leader.

America has always been torn between the ideal and the real, between noble goals and inevitable compromises.  So was Jefferson.  In his head and in his heart, as in the nation itself, the perfect warred with the good, the intellectual with the visceral.  In him as in America, that conflict was, and is, a war without end.  Jefferson's story resonates not least because he embodies an eternal drama: the struggle of the leadership of the nation to achieve greatness in a difficult and confounding world." 

This book is worth a read.

Thomas Jefferson:  The Art of Power.  Written by John Meacham.  Published by Random House in 2012.  The quote is taken from prologue pages xix & xx.  

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