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Like Jefferson, you can’t be perfect

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

Lord knows, leaders have never been models of perfection. Nobody illustrates that point better than Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence author and third U.S.president.

Jefferson’s mind, heart and actions conflicted with one another his whole life. His behavior at some point contradicted almost everything he believed in.

Example 1: The man who wrote that all men should be free once observed after one of his slaves ran away that a man who has tasted freedom can never be a slave again. Yet, Jefferson’s estate continued to hold slaves, even after his death.

Example 2: He wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Yet, Jefferson quietly urged state officials to press libel charges against editors who criticized his presidency.

But inconsistent behavior didn’t make Jefferson a hypocrite. Disappointing, sometimes, yes. An imperfect leader, he guided the country more through his ideals than his actions: While Jefferson trusted in“the good sense of our people” to steer the nation forward, he also believed that freedom needed a firm push, and he pushed it.

Lesson: By virtue of training yourself in leadership skills, you’ll often know exactly how you’re supposed to perform in a given situation. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to carry it off perfectly. If your leadership opportunity turns out to be disappointing, consider the experience a lesson, and apply your knowledge and beliefs better next time.

— Adapted from “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Thomas Jefferson,” Walter Kirn, Time.

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