What Can the C-Suite Learn From Thomas Jefferson?

August 19, 2015 Jeffrey Hayzlett

Like many historic leaders, Thomas Jefferson was a man who didn't fit into a specific mold. He was considered to be a visionary, often going against the grain in order to achieve the greater good. 

It's no wonder I like him. 

Jefferson was a man who forged ahead, despite personal tragedy and despair, and was able to voice the aspirations of a new America like no other individual of his era, serving his country for more than five decades. 

In honor of Jefferson's birthday this month, I took some time to read through some of his thoughts. 

Much of his wisdom still holds true today, and It occurred to me that C-suite leaders could learn a lot from Jefferson. His straight-shooting words helped shape and advance our country. But they can also help C-suite leaders shape and advance their careers. 

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."

You can't make it to the top without the right skills and experience. But attitude plays just as important of a role. After all, what good are great professional skills without the right attitude to see it through?

Running around on a high horse thinking your stuff doesn't stink is a surefire way to ruin the mood in a company. Executives who are on the ground with their finger on the pulse of their business and leading by example are the ones who are taking their companies into the future. 

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

Sometimes you get lucky. You have passion for something that you want to do, and then along the way you find that everything seems to fall into line. But there's never been any substitute for hard work. I repeat that mantra to my teams on a daily basis. Think big, act bigger and work hard. Don't set limits for yourself. Luck will play a part sometimes, but it's the work that gets the job done. 

"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."

When you love what you do, it isn't work. It becomes your life. I'm always working toward the next big idea. That's key for leaders who want to get ahead. The best c-suite leaders act. When they get a great idea, they act on it, and they don't let others do all the work. It seems simple, but acting when others don't sets great c-suite leaders apart.

"It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good."

Companies don't grow by sitting comfortably on the sidelines. They grow by taking educated risks. C-suite executives should have a good idea on the ROI before making a new investment, but don't be afraid to be bold. Look beyond the status quo for a better way of doing things. Do what no one has ever done before. Lead the way and embrace the possibilities. 

"I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way."

Knowledge is power. Jefferson knew that. He would often spend evenings in deep conversations around dinner and wine. But it wasn't just about being social. It was about learning from his peers - taking their best ideas and applying it to his situations. 

C-suite leaders should do the same. Seek out people who've done it before, and learn from them. And when you're at the top, repay the favor. I get requests every day to help others, and I rarely turn any of them down. You never know how your small act of kindness might help someone succeed and thus, repay you in turn. 

Jefferson, I think, would agree. Get your Jefferson on!

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