As a history buff, I’ve read biographies of Alexander Hamilton, as well as books about his rival, and ultimate assassin, Aaron Burr.
So when the publisher of “The Leadership Secrets of Hamilton” offered a review copy, I was curious. The author, Gordon Leidner, is a management expert who has written anecdotal books about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and other subjects.
His new book is subtitled “7 Steps to Revolutionary Leadership from Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers.” It’s a quick read —159 pages with large type and illustrations — divided into seven chapters written as imperatives for career success.
The first chapter is “Prepare Yourself,” which Hamilton did better than any of his fellow founders, if for no other reason than he had farther to travel.
As Broadway composer Lin Manuel Miranda poetically put it: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
By working harder and smarter and preparing better than his peers, as the book explains.
Hamilton’s ability to consume and organize information was legendary. His skills caught the attention of George Washington and others and paved the way for him to marry into a powerful New York family.
Chapter 2, “Exemplify Moral Integrity,” focuses on Washington, which is good because Hamilton, like Burr, had a wandering eye.
Although not the serial philanderer that Burr was, Hamilton had an infamous affair with a married woman when he was treasury secretary. Her husband blackmailed Hamilton, which led him to write about the infidelity in a pamphlet, which effectively ended his political career.
Chapter 3, “Go Beyond Self Interest,” notes that Hamilton, while serving as a top aide to Washington, was able to control his enormous ego and was eventually rewarded with a crucial battlefield command in the final conflict at Yorktown.
The full story, however, was more complicated, because by Yorktown Hamilton had made his disgruntlement clear to all, including Washington. Again, not a great example.
Hamilton, however, is the perfect role model for Chapter 4, “Establish Clear Goals.” Few peers doubted where he stood on important issues. Among other things, Hamilton is credited with creating the foundation for our Treasury, banking and legal systems and encouraging local manufacturers.
Chapter 5, “Respect Your People,” focuses on Washington and explains his decision to create a national bank, despite the fact that the Constitution provides no explicit power to do so. Washington relied on Hamilton, who argued banking power was implied in the government’s right to collect taxes, borrow money, regulate interstate trade and provide national defense.
Chapter 6, “Convey an Inspiring Vision,” focuses on an imperative with which Hamilton, by his own admission, had mixed success.
Historians credit Hamilton with nearly superhuman efforts to persuade and inspire his contemporaries on several initiatives that ultimately succeeded. Biographers, however, note that by the end of his life, when his Federalist Party was in retreat, Hamilton believed his efforts had largely failed.
“Be a Mentor” is Leidner’s final leadership imperative. His example, as it should be, is Benjamin Franklin, the oldest founder who mentored virtually all, including Washington and Hamilton.
Although some of the examples in “The Leadership Secrets of Hamilton” are, like Hamilton, flawed, much of Leidner’s career advice is solid, if at times obvious. Who can disagree with “No one wants to work for someone who does not tell the truth,” or “Dishonesty, once discovered, breeds contempt.”
Although these days, who knows?