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Ben Franklin: The ultimate Renaissance man

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Executive Leadership is pleased to welcome Ben Franklin, founding father, inventor and statesman. Ben was a real promoter of unity, hard work, scientific progress and a pluralism way ahead of its time.

EL: Everybody knows you invented the lightning rod, bifocals and a stove, but even readers of Executive Leadership may not know that you invented the self-improvement industry. Describe the self-improvement course you undertook as a young man.

Franklin: I devised an arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. While I did not obtain every goal, I did attend to one virtue per week for 13 weeks, and I attempted to make virtue a habit. These virtues began with temperance and proceeded through silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility.

EL: Which was hardest?

Franklin: My list of virtues contained at first but 12, but a Quaker friend kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation, that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent I determined to cure myself, if I could, and added humility to my list. I cannot boast of much success.

EL: Which was easiest?

Franklin: Sincerity. “Use no hurtful de­ceit.” I never took an interest in dissembl­ing, never wished to hurt a soul. That left me free to traffick in unhurtful deceits.

EL: You have said that you hate confrontation, yet you are famous for outrageous arguments in your newspapers and with business associates. Can you explain?

Franklin: The practice is not wise; for, in the course of my observation, these disputing, contradicting and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get goodwill.

EL: You built a school, raised a militia, started an insurance company, paved streets and created a library and a volunteer fire department. How on earth did you manage all those things?

Franklin: For the school, and the others in turn, I took on the trouble of superintending the work more cheer­fully because it did not then interfere with my business, having the year before taken on a very able, industrious and honest partner, Mr. David Hall, with whose character I was well acquainted.

EL: We advise leaders to play to their strengths rather than using excessive energy to remedy their weaknesses. Do you agree?

Franklin: Yes. The office of justice of the peace I tried a little, by attending a few courts and sitting on the bench to hear causes. But finding that more knowledge of the law than I possessed was necessary in that position, I gradually withdrew from it, excusing myself by being obliged to attend to higher duties as a legislator in the Assembly.

EL: You played a number of roles in the French and Indian War. What did you learn from your time as a colonel in that war?

Franklin: I learned to keep my soldiers occupied. When men are employed, they are best contented, but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, and in continual ill-humor.

Note: Ben Franklin’s responses adapted from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

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