Issue Number 5: Benjamin Franklin’s Leadership Moment

When the American Constitution was being signed at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin remarked that he had often wondered whether the rays of the sun painted in the chair of the president of the convention signified a sunrise or sunset for the new country. According to James Madison, Franklin expressed his satisfaction that “now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

Benjamin Franklin had a gift for seeing what others missed and for creating opportunities where others saw only obstacles. On one occasion Franklin used a leadership moment to turn an adversary into a lifelong friend. When he was seeking a second term as clerk in the Pennsylvania Legislature, he was opposed by a wealthy member who supported another candidate for the position. Franklin won the job, but knew he had created an adversary.

Knowing the wealthy man took great pride in his library, Franklin wrote him a note asking to borrow a rare, valuable book. Although the man did not like Franklin, he was obliged by social convention to loan him the book.

Franklin read it and returned it a week later with a note complimenting the man lavishly on his good taste in literature, and expressing his undying gratitude and appreciation for the man’s generosity.

Franklin used an opportunity – a leadership moment – to demonstrate he could be trusted, and as a result he gained not only the man’s respect, but also his cooperation. The next time they met, the man spoke to Franklin “…as he had never done before, with great civility, and afterwards manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions…” according to Franklin’s autobiography. Having established a trusting relationship, Franklin took advantage of every opportunity to nurture it. Over time, the man not only continued to support Franklin, but remained a lifelong friend.

I am not suggesting you start borrowing things just so you can return them, but I do suggest you recognize and take advantage of your leadership moments to nurture trust.

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