Skip to content

9 Business Leadership Lessons from the Founding Fathers

Just in time for the 4th of July, EDA CEO Ed DeAngelis discusses nine leadership lessons we can learn from the Founding Fathers.

When it comes to building and nurturing a successful business, there are some words of wisdom that stand the test of time. It’s interesting to think of how the wisdom of our nation’s Founding Fathers can apply to modern business leadership practices. As pivotal leadership figures in the shaping of our nation, Founding Fathers inspired and imparted many words of wisdom to the fabric of American history, advocating unity, cooperation, compromise, negotiation, and the groundwork for protection of individual liberties – all values that permeate the fabric of business organizations maintaining positive workplace cultures. 

Though not every famous Founding Father signed the Declaration of Independence – as the Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence, Geroge Washington, in his role as Commander of the Continental Army, and his forces were stationed in New York City – all were integral visionaries in leading the historic events that sparked the formation of a new nation, one founded with the commitment and hope in liberty and justice for all. Unsurprisingly, the enduring, unfailing core values that inspired our nation’s Founding Fathers continue to resonate with today’s business community, imparting wisdom poised for incorporation by those modern business leaders seeking enduring success.

What are some of these perpetual words of wisdom? Here’s 9 quotes from a few of our nation’s leading Founding Fathers that offer timeless guidance for good business leadership.

"The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost deliberation, fortitude and perseverance."
- Samuel Adams 

This timeless bit of wisdom highlights essential qualities that are crucial in the modern business world. Deliberation involves careful consideration and thoughtful decision-making, and the importance of taking the time to evaluate all possible options, understand potential consequences, and make informed choices. Effective business leaders take the time to develop comprehensive strategies. This involves analyzing market trends, understanding customer needs, and evaluating competitive landscapes. Deliberation also helps in identifying and assessing risks, encouraging more balanced and effective business outcomes. Fortitude and perseverance also continue to be mainstay qualities of effective business leadership – as these qualities are vital to crisis management, sustaining workplace values, leading with innovation, and building successful, resilient teams equipped to show perseverance throughout an organization’s busy, and sometimes challenging, days.

"People who have a stake in their country and their community are the best citizens."
- John Hancock

John Hancock’s insight into the importance of having a stake in one’s community is profoundly applicable to modern business. By fostering stakeholder engagement and creating a sense of ownership, businesses can cultivate a committed and motivated group of employees, customers, investors, and community members. This approach not only drives success but also builds a sustainable and ethical business environment. Stakeholder engagement refers to the involvement of all parties who have an interest in the success of the business. This includes customers, investors, suppliers, and employees. Engaged employees are more productive, innovative, and committed to the company’s goals. Creating a culture where employees feel valued and have a stake in the company’s success leads to higher morale and better performance.

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."
- Thomas Jefferson

With this quote, Thomas Jefferson underscores the foundational importance of integrity and transparency. In the context of modern business practices, honesty is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage. Honesty involves being truthful, transparent, and straightforward in all interactions. It means avoiding deceit and ensuring that one's actions are consistent with one’s words. In application, for today’s business leaders, honestly fosters trust within corporate teams and in dealings with external stakeholders. Honesty guides today’s business leaders in making ethical decisions, even when faced with difficult choices. This ensures the long-term sustainability and reputation of the business. What’s more, businesses known for their honesty and integrity attract loyal customers, reliable suppliers, and committed employees. 

"The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph."
- George Washington

George Washington’s wisdom, "The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph," is a powerful reminder that challenges and adversities can lead to significant growth and success in business. By embracing difficulties with resilience and determination, business leaders can drive innovation, strengthen their teams, and achieve greater triumphs. In today’s dynamic business environment, the ability to navigate and overcome conflicts is a crucial determinant of lasting success. Keep in mind, facing conflicts and challenges head-on with determination and resilience encourages business leadership and employees to adapt quickly to complicated circumstances – creating businesses capable of overcoming difficulties through collaboration.  

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty."
- James Madison

James Madison’s insight, "The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty," is profoundly applicable to the business world. By prioritizing continuous learning, encouraging knowledge sharing, and investing in innovation, businesses can achieve sustained success and foster a dynamic, agile, and informed workforce. In today’s rapidly changing environment, the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are key to maintaining competitive advantage and driving organizational growth. Always remember, the advancement of knowledge involves continuous learning, research, and innovation – great business leaders are lifelong learners. 

"A penny saved is a penny earned."
- Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s timeless wisdom, "A penny saved is a penny earned," is highly relevant to modern business practices. By embracing financial prudence, companies can increase profitability, enhance operational efficiency, and ensure long-term sustainability. In a competitive business environment, the ability to manage resources effectively and make strategic financial decisions is crucial for success. What is Franklin really talking about here – outside of frugality? For today’s business leaders, one could easily assert Franklin is talking about prudent financial management, and efficiency. In the business context, this principle highlights the importance of cost control, resource management, and strategic financial planning. Business leaders need to be strategic financial planners, with an understanding of operational efficiency and sustainability. By making financially prudent decisions, business leaders are demonstrating cost-saving behaviors, setting a standard for an entire organization. 

"Always stand on principle, even if you stand alone."
- John Adams

Principle-based leadership involves making decisions and taking actions that align with core values and ethical standards, regardless of external pressures or challenges. In today’s business environment, adhering to principles and ethical standards is crucial for long-term success and maintaining trust. John Adams’ advice, "Always stand on principle, even if you stand alone," is a powerful reminder of the importance of integrity and steadfastness in business. By embracing principle-based leadership, companies can build trust, foster a positive workplace culture, and achieve sustainable success. In an ever-changing business landscape, the commitment to ethical standards and core values is a timeless and essential guide for leaders. This includes, for business leaders, creating workplace cultures where ethical behavior is encouraged and rewarded. 

"A promise must never be broken."
- Alexander Hamilton

Keeping promises involves fulfilling commitments and obligations made to employees, customers, and stakeholders, thus building a foundation of trust and integrity. Ever order anything from Amazon? Amazon's commitment to its Prime membership promises, such as two-day shipping, has been a cornerstone of its customer loyalty and market dominance. Hamilton's assertion, "A promise must never be broken," underscores the critical importance of trust and reliability in leadership and business practices. In a business context, keeping promises builds credibility, strengthens relationships, and fosters a culture of accountability. For today’s business leaders, committing to and fulfilling promises builds trust, foster loyalty, and creates a culture of accountability and integrity. Keep in mind, the ability to reliably keep promises differentiates successful companies and leaders, establishing a strong foundation for great success. What’s more, a culture of accountability and trust is established when leaders consistently keep their promises, encouraging the same behavior throughout the organization.

"The more we bestow … the richer we become."
- Thomas Paine

What is the value of generosity, sharing, and giving back? In business, this principle – giving back – underscores the importance of corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, and fostering a culture of generosity. By fostering a culture of giving and support, businesses can enhance their reputation, build loyal relationships with employees and customers, and drive innovation and growth. As many of today’s great business leaders are well aware, upholding strong principles when it comes to a company’s generosity and social responsibility are essential for creating sustainable success and making a positive impact on the community in which the business operates – and even the world.