Leadership lessons from a not so known President

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jerry Wizda
  • 325th Medical Support Squadron commander
Short in stature at 5 feet 4 inches, not particularly handsome, a bookworm and not exactly the life of the party, James Madison does not fit some perceptions of a leader. 

In today's world, he probably would have been perceived as a "nerd." But his brilliant mind and leadership skills now have historians re-embracing Madison's presidency and his leadership. 

President Madison is best known as "The Father of the Constitution." He was a delegate, unequaled in his writing abilities, who kept written documentation at every Constitutional Convention's secret meeting. Later, his Virginia Plan became the basis for our Constitution. 

What most people do not remember is President Madison's equally successful presidency where he led an infant nation against the greatest naval power in the world and won. The War of 1812 remains "The Forgotten War." Many do not realize it was through President Madison's leadership we escaped becoming, once again, subjects of Great Britain. 

So what personal attributes made this man an unlikely leader and what can you take from the story of President Madison and apply to today's world to make you a leader? 

First, always believe in yourself and never doubt your abilities. This is probably the hardest perception to embrace. Each day when President Madison went to the Constitutional Convention meetings, he stood up and rallied for a democratic government with election of congressmen directly by the people. Together with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, he wrote the Federalist Papers, documents considered to be the best interpretation of American government, even in present times. 

He truly embraced his ideals and this spurred him to speak and write what was in his heart. His conviction to his ideals gave us the great nation that we have today. At work, strive to be the best you can be. Work from your heart. If you give 100 percent, strive to give 110 percent. 

Second, stay true to yourself and stand by your convictions. After President Madison asked Congress to declare war on Great Britain on June 1, 1812, riots began over the decision. Talk of succession in New England ran rampant among the Federalists. But President Madison stayed true to his belief in freedom for America, and despite opposition to the war, he stood his ground. 

He is quoted as saying, "If we lose, we lose independence." People will perceive you as a leader if you stick to your beliefs and do not go back and forth on your ideals. Even those who do not agree with you will respect you for your steadfast loyalty and your convictions. 

Lastly, know when to stay and know when to run. Even the best of leaders must give up the fight at some point for the sake their people. On August 24, 1814, President Madison and Congress fled Washington, on horseback as the British advanced on the city. While it may have been perceived as cowardly to run, fleeing the city was the only choice President Madison had. 

If he had chosen to stay and ordered Congress to stay, they would have been captured or killed. 

Merely three days after fleeing, President Madison returned to Washington, rallied the citizens and connected with the people like he never had before. Not having slept in days, President Madison rallied Congress and met in a post office, the only building left standing. He began the work of the government from scratch and turned the tide of the war. Think carefully about your decisions and of the consequences down the road. Is the fight worth it? 

Not all of us will become president, but each, in our own way, can be a successful leader. Every day we make decisions that affect our families, the Air Force and its Airmen, and our country. Many of these decisions are simple and many can be life-altering. If we embrace the lessons of our forefathers we are sure to become successful Airmen and leaders in our own right.