Mr. President

Mark Frasco - President

February 2014 – Today is Presidents’ Day. This is the day we celebrate George Washington’s birthday. You might consider this newsletter a public service – it will be the only mail you receive today.

Over the past two years, I’ve enjoyed reading the biographies of Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln, along with the accounts of General Washington in the book, 1776. What a wonderful journey. Each is fascinating independent of the others, but the common themes are remarkable and noteworthy.

“His Excellency” and “His Highness” were front runners for the title of the position we know as the President. After much debate, with those opposing claiming the title could aptly describe the head of a fire company or cricket club, Mr. President was decided.

I’ve watched and studied leaders over the years. Inside the organization, great leaders don’t impress with their titles. There are as many varying styles as there are leaders. But, if you look closely, the best share attributes that help move people to brighter futures.

Different than what most people think, leaders are rarely born into an easy life. In fact, there are far more stories of struggle, than a life of leisure.

Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln spent much of their lives in debt, always concerned about how they would care for their families. Just two years before Jefferson took the office of President, as Vice-President, he wrote in his journal, “I have not at this moment more than 50 dollars in the world at my command, and these are my only resource for a considerable time to come.” In fact, upon his death, in 1826, he left debts exceeding $100,000, the equivalent of nearly $2.5 million dollars today.

More often than not, leaders don’t choose to be leaders, rather they are chosen to be such. Most great leaders are often not outwardly ambitious, rather impelled by others to higher status.

After stints as a Massachusetts delegate in both the first and second Continental Congress, in 1777, Adams was excited for nothing more than to return to his home near Boston, reengage his law practice and dig in the dirt of his homestead garden. With many consecutive months, over four years, away from his wife, family and home, he was lonely, tired and somewhat despondent. He wrote, “It was my intention to decline the next elections, and return to my practice at the bar.”

While in New York, on November 27, 1777, he received a letter from Congress, naming him a Foreign Commissioner. He was to work with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee in Paris, to negotiate a critical alliance with France, giving us a chance for victory against England. The Committee for Foreign Affairs wrote in their assignment, “We are by no means willing to indulge a thought of your declining this important service.” And so Adams, for the first time in his life, against his better judgment, journeyed across the Atlantic. He spent most of the next ten years of his life away from family and profession; ten years of separation and sacrifice; ten years of diplomacy that assuredly preserved the birth of a nation.

The journey that most leaders take is not a direct line; in fact, deflection to a higher ideal is often involved. One incident, even one of failure, leads to the next, featuring wholly different consequences and possibilities.

Lincoln was a highly unlikely candidate to be elected President in 1860. Well known in his home state of Illinois, he was an actor in what is thought of as the most famous political debates in our country’s history – the Lincoln-Douglas Senatorial debates of 1858. Marching bands, fireworks, concessions were normal features of 19th century debates. Debates of the day were lengthy speeches, lasting as long as two-hours, with rebuttal opportunities. They travelled over 4,000 miles of Illinois territory from August to October, that year. Although many determined Lincoln the winner of the debates, Douglas was far more popular and the Illinois legislature reelected him Senator.

Lincoln had lost yet another election, but these debates positioned him as a leading voice considering slavery a moral, social and political wrong. Although, he never uttered the word “equality,” his position that the Declaration of Independence enumerated natural rights to Negroes was gaining popularity, especially in the North. In 1860, after the 3rd ballot amongst a list of powerful Republicans – Seward, Cameron, Chase and Bates, Lincoln won the nomination as the party’s candidate, sweeping through the general election to become our nation’s sixteenth President. With nothing more than a very modest political resume, as President, he ushered a nation through a nearly fatal war and positioned our people for a brighter future.

As you reflect on your position, some of you are building your leadership chops, while others are clearly positioned to make a difference. A few leadership qualities will prevail, as our nation’s greatest leaders have displayed:

  • Vision – the ability to envision a future that is compelling, ennobling and will deliver a meaningful, sustainable, positive difference to those involved
  • Collaboration – build strong consensus; listen, learn, critically analyze and bring desperate pieces together for the common good
  • Persistence – dogged persistence to what is good and in alignment with the vision that has been set out, eliminating outcomes other than those that deliver successful attainment of the vision
  • Virtue – display unquestionable integrity, character and moral behavior. None of us is perfect, but striving for such is beyond question and expected.

So, you’ve heard the phrase, “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Assuredly, there are times when it is best for us to choose “follow” or “get out of the way,” but when it is your time – share the risk, make a difference… be a leader.

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at