In retrospect, most of history ultimately comes to seem inevitable. It's good to keep that in mind on Independence Day, because the birth of the United States was anything but preordained.
Forget about the the difficult military challenges that the colonists faced. Even just getting the Founding Fathers together to decide to break off officially from England took incredible leadership and courage.
We've seen before that the overwhelming majority of the founding fathers were entrepreneurs. They were also great leaders. Here's what we can learn from them.
1. Choose a worthy cause
Okay, you can't do much better than this for a cause: Freedom! (Well, technically as things worked out back then, freedom for white men, and especially landowners.) But the founders at least aimed high, even if it took almost two centuries for American law to catch up:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Regardless of the stakes, if you're leading a team, you owe it to them to identify a cause worth fighting for.
2. Demonstrate your investment
There's an old military joke about a commander who gives an inspiring speech to his troops about a dangerous mission--inspiring, that is, until he gets to the part where he says, "Unfortunately, I won't be able to go with you..."
Not the case here. The mere fact that the founders showed up at the Continental Congress was likely to be seen as treason, and they had plenty to lose. The last line of the Declaration before the signatures makes this clear: "[W]e mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
3. Be open to debate
If you took American history in high school, or if you've read anything about this period, you'll know that the massive debates in the Second Continental Congress were an absolute prerequisite to getting consensus. The congress itself ran from 1775 to 1789--14 years--and its members included just about every great leader and statesman of the period in America (along with some not-so-greats).
Demonstrating that you believe others' opinions have value can go a long way toward motivating them to give their best efforts and help you achieve your goal.
4. Be open to compromise
You and your team will likely have to live with each other afterward. Compromise is a big big part of that, and it goes hand in hand with debate.
Of course, the Founding Fathers continued to work together to form a government long after the Declaration of Independence. At the Constitutional convention of 1787 for example, they made gigantic compromises--good ones, like forming two houses of Congress, so that states would have equal representation in one and proportional representation in the other--but also bad ones, like limiting the right of the federal government to interfere with slavery and counting slaves as "three-fifths" of a person.
5. Take a stand
Signing the Declaration of Independence was tantamount to a death sentence if the colonies had lost the war. So, it's especially noteworthy that John Hancock signed it so prominently and boldly--supposedly (although unconfirmed) remarking that he wanted to ensure that the king of England could read it clearly.
After all the debate, when when it came time to decide, the Founding Fathers decided. That's a key job for any leader.
6. Let others have credit
There's a relevant quote that's attributed to many people, but it's 100 percent true: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
For example, everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, right? Well, yes... but it was "subject to edits by the other members of the five-man team appointed to come up with the document," according to an examination by The Washington Post. That team included Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, John Adams and Roger Sherman. I don't know how much of that authorship credit was the result of soothing egos, but most importantly, the job got done.
7. Agree on a narrative
Virtually every small detail of what we think happened on July 4, 1776 is open to debate. John Adams went to his grave believing that the more apt date to celebrate would be May 15 of that year, when the congress passed a resolution against England. The signing of the document itself--well, that took place largely on August 2. Yes, the declaration itself is dated July 4, but have you ever signed a check or a contract and filled in another date?
An organization needs to agree on a truthful narrative that includes milestones to celebrate, but that means not letting minor disagreements about details get in the way. Stories are powerful--and as it happens, necessary for leaders.