More Than A Founding Father
Benjamin Franklin is one of our favorite leaders from history. Not only is he a Founding Father, but he straddled the universe of professional and amateur interests, from political philosopher to postmaster, from scientist to diplomat, his discoveries and theories stick with us today. The two aspects of Franklin’s life that we like best are his dedication to inventiveness and his pursuit of self-improvement. He’s well-known for the first, having invented things like swim fins by the age of 11. As for the second, not everyone has explored Franklin’s notion of self-improvement, which we argue is what led to his ability to accomplish everything else that he did.
This month, as we focus on self-improvement, we point to Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. The virtues themselves are impressive, ranging from “silence” as a way to speak only when it benefits others or yourself and “justice,” defined by committing no injuries nor omitting the benefits of your talents that are your duty to the world. Think about the latter. Franklin argued that any special gift you have must be used to improve your condition and that of the community you serve. It’s sentiments like this that drive self-improvement for the sake of having the most positive influence that we can as leaders.
Improvement Strategy and Philosophy
But it’s not the virtues themselves that we like as much as how Franklin worked toward their attainment. Yes, the Thirteen Virtues embody core values, and we could dive into each as a characteristic to master in life and work. But self-improvement is a personal endeavor. And regardless of what you are pursuing, it’s Franklin’s strategy and philosophy about self-improvement that is critical, not necessarily the specifics of what you are working to accomplish.
Franklin didn’t tackle all thirteen virtues at once, which is a flaw in what many of us try to do when we set goals for ourselves. Instead, he worked toward one of the virtues at a time. He picked one per week, leaving the other to chance, with a focus on making daily improvements that add up in the long run. In fact, Franklin noted in his autobiography that he often failed at one or another of his virtues, but in his attempts to improve himself, it was his incremental steps forward that led to his overall success. The strategy he used was one virtue or leadership quality at a time and his philosophy was to continue to make strides even when we take steps backwards. It’s genius.
A Model for Self-Improvement
Let’s unpack Franklin’s strategy with three simple steps for this month (or whatever month you choose):
- Pick one of your own virtues in life. This might be a leadership quality that you want to improve or something else about work and life that you need to do better. We’re going to extend Franklin’s weekly focus to a monthly focus for this one aspect of self-improvement. Stay tuned for our challenges and tips.
- Dedicate a journal (or space in your journal) to this one self-improvement goal. Plan to write at least one sentence in the AM and one sentence in the PM about it. We’ll say more later this month, but, for now, try summarizing your intentions in the morning and reflecting on the outcomes in the PM.
- Define your WHY about this goal. This should be your rationale for making this self-improvement. What will it do for you and how will it impact the people you seek to serve? More on this later in the month.
Finally, Franklin’s story from history provides a great perspective and a way to approach self-improvement. We extend that to Bob Burg’s insight about becoming what he calls a “go-giver.” Just because you’re trying to self-improve doesn’t mean you’re being selfish in that pursuit. The goal should actually be to expand your influence and become a better servant in whatever cause is most important to you.
Technical Tip: Make your morning matter more than ever. Heed the advice from The Miracle Morning. Set your alarm and get out of bed at least one hour before necessary. Adjust your bedtime to support your personal sleeping patterns. Use the time for meditation, writing, exercise, or even catching up on email. Seriously, you won’t believe what this will do for your mental and physical state.
That’s this month’s model for self-improvement. Remember, the key is to focus on one aspect of life and work at a time. At the greatest success of improving your outcomes, you should find yourself with a singular focus for precision and expertise. Stay tuned for challenges, nuggets of wisdom, reflection questions, technical tips, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster. Follow us at theschoolhouse302.com to join thousands of leaders who get our alerts, blogs, podcasts, and more.
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