Thomas Jefferson

June 17, 2015

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I recently read a book called Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. To me, this book is a wonderful insight into the life and person of Thomas Jefferson. I’ve always known him to be brilliant and wide-ranging in his interests. I knew he wrote the Declaration of Independence and was our third president. I knew he founded University of Virginia. But in this wonderful book, I learned the effective and quiet way he accumulated power and how he got things done, which if practiced today would help us solve many of the problems that confront us. 

The author writes, “Jefferson immersed himself in the subtle skills of engaging others, chiefly by offering people what they value most – an attentive audience to listen to their own visions and views.”

I’ve learned that most of us, including politicians, often talk too much and listen too little. The author says that can be self-defeating, for in many instances the surer route to winning a friend is not to convince them that you are right, but that you care what they think. Everyone wants to believe that what they say is fascinating and illuminating. The best political figures create the impression that everyone they encounter is one of the choicest people on Earth.

A grandson described Jefferson with the following: “His powers of conversation were great, yet he always turned to subjects most familiar to those with whom he conversed, whether laborer, mechanic or other.”

I think the same to be true in business leadership. I have learned that perhaps the four most important words in business leadership are “what do you think?”  Not only does this show a sincere interest in the other person but I always learn something.

The author, Meacham, tells us that, “Thomas Jefferson endures today because we can see in him all the varied and wonderous possibilities of the human experience. The thirst for knowledge, the capacity to create, the love of family and of friends, the hunger for accomplishment, the applause of the world, the marshalling of power, the bending of others to one’s own vision. His genius lay in his versatility, his larger political legacy in his leadership of thought and of men.”

In the last years of his life, he wrote to a young offspring some sound advice on life, “ how to live a virtuous life : Adore God.  Revere and cherish your parents, love your neighbor as yourself and your country more than yourself.  Be just, be true. If you do this, your life will be the portal to one of eternal bliss.”

He also gave advice on living a practical life when he said:

  1. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  2. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  3. When angry count to 10 before you speak, if very angry – count to 100.

Much of this is the advice my dad gave to me as I was growing up. I tried to follow it, but I could've done a lot better!

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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