Hamilton :: 5 Leadership and Life Lessons from the Musical

Hamilton Theatre

What are the leadership and life lessons we can learn from Hamilton?

Hamilton has hit our country by storm since its arrival as a film on Disney+. The musical is phenomenal and original on its own, but the timing with current events makes it all the more compelling and relevant. As I reflected on the film, I recognized a number of leadership virtues and life lessons that can be learned.

My hope is that you gain value from my reflection on the musical. I would love to hear all the virtues (and vices) that you would contribute to this list!

Have a Definite Purpose – “Not Throwing Away My Shot”

Hamilton was driven through life with a definite purpose toward big goals. He had invested in his studies and personal development. He chose not to be a victim to circumstances which would lead many to a life of poverty and insignificance. He knew that he had a shot at living a significant life – and was “not throwing away [his] shot!”

He was resolved to do everything he could to secure independence from England and successfully establish the United States as a strong nation. He surrounded himself with men who were equally driven with the same desire and resolve toward their extravagant goals. They were proactive, relentless, optimistic, and ready to jump on opportunities and strive for progress.

Why do you write like you're running out of time? …Ev'ry day you fight, like you're running out of time.

- “Non-Stop” - by Lin-Manuel Miranda Tweet

I have been going through a journey to discover my own “definite purpose” in life so I can proactively strive toward big goals with excellence. A step in that journey is described in this post about developing a life plan.

Leave a Legacy – “Blow Us All Away”

The closing words of the musical are “Who tells your story?” This final song highlights that each of us leaves some form of a legacy and we cannot control how our story will be told and who chooses to tell it. Alexander Hamilton had a drive to protect his reputation and build a lasting legacy.

Hamilton and Burr share a split-stage song (“Dear Theodosia”) where they separately sing for their respective new-born children. Each of them dotes over his child and dreams of how he or she will carry on the legacy of the father. They exclaim that their respective children will “blow us all away.”

If we lay a strong enough foundation - We'll pass it on to you, we'll give the world to you - And you'll blow us all away

- “Dear Theodosia” - by Lin-Manuel Miranda Tweet

Contemplating your own legacy is a vital part of becoming the strong person you are created to be. If we begin our journey with the desired end in mind, then we know which steps to take in order to reach that end. Choose your legacy now so it isn’t left to others to “tell your story.” This is an important part of building your life plan.

Have Patience – “Smile More, Talk Less”

Aaron Burr provides a constant word of caution to Hamilton, which he mostly ignored and disrespected, that would have provided some wisdom for his overzealous pursuits. Alexander would have made less enemies and created more unity if he had heeded Burr’s advice to be patient and friendly.

All of us could learn to smile more, talk less, and begin to truly hear people as we recognize and validate their worth and potential. This does not mean that we should be idle and passive, especially in urgent times that call for action, but it is usually unwise to brashly march ahead into “battle” without counsel or unified support.

Sometimes we need a paradigm shift in how we perceive and relate with others. Recognizing the worth of others is a valuable virtue in any leadership role.

Invest in Your Inner Circle – “That Would Be Enough”

A repeated theme in the musical is the cry for Hamilton to be content with spending time with his family. His wife Eliza clearly yearned for her husband to be home with her more often, especially during her pregnancy and the birth of their son, Phillip. Alexander was away from home so much during the revolution and the early years of the country that he failed to invest time and love into his family. The evidence of this came in two of his major life failures – his adulterous affair and the death of his son. He did not take seriously his responsibility to be a steward over his wife and children, and he paid dearly for his mistakes.

One of my great passions and life purposes is to be responsible in my role as a husband and father. I will continue to invest in my “inner circle” – my family, friends, and church community. Through my career and academic pursuits, I have found it necessary to often tap the breaks on my desires so that I can be present and strong within my close relationships.

Choose Forgiveness over Revenge – “Forgiveness. Can you imagine?”

There are moments that the words don’t reach - There is a grace too powerful to name - We push away what we can never understand - We push away the unimaginable - They are standing in the garden - Alexander by Eliza’s side - She takes his hand - … Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

- “It’s Quiet Uptown” - by Lin-Manuel Miranda Tweet

The most moving part of the musical for us was when we experienced Alexander and Eliza grieving the death of their son. Hamilton had done so much to hurt his wife, but she chose to forgive him and reconcile their marriage through the journey of grieving together. They accomplish the unimaginable together because of her choice to forgive him. Her genuine forgiveness is evident in the final song as she describes all the work she did to further Alexander’s legacy after his death.

Aaron Burr and Phillip Alexander both chose revenge instead of forgiveness and that choice ruined and ended their lives, respectively.

Choose to Forgive

We have the choice on a regular basis to hold grudges and take revenge on others who have wronged us – OR to extend grace and forgive them. Revenge produces destruction. Forgiveness opens the door to healing and reconciliation. Holding a grudge hurts yourself more than the other person. Choose forgiveness and free yourself of the burden of anger and revenge.

If this is a topic you would like to further explore – please email me at thestrongwork@gmail.com

Your Opportunity to Contribute

I realize that the life of Alexander Hamilton provides many more lessons of virtues and vices. Reflecting on the lives of significant men and women enables us to learn from their success and mistakes. Please provide your own examples of lessons from the musical through the comments section below this post. Two ideas to start with are – 1) Have a Character of Loyalty and not Deception and 2) Take Responsibility for your Mistakes.

Reflective Questions:

  • Which of these virtues is most valuable to you?
  • Did you see yourself in one of Hamilton’s vices? Is that a potential area of growth for you?

Links to Images Used:

(Personal) Independence :: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly!

American Flag: Independence

There are positives and negatives to the pursuit of personal independence. We would do well to learn to strive for the positives and beware the negatives if becoming an “independent” person is our goal.  

There has been a growing trend to desire personal liberty or “autonomy” in American society. See the graph for how Google search trends show a steady increase in searches for the term “autonomy.” People want to “cast off the shackles” of societal or family expectations and be free to do or become whatever they want. We should ask ourselves if this is a band-wagon we should hitch up to.  

  • Will personal independence help us in the strong work we are created to do?  
  • Should becoming independent be my personal goal in life? 
  • And How do I lead in a culture that is driving toward independence and autonomy? 

American Independence as a Case Study

The residents of the British colonies in America felt oppressed, misrepresented, and disrespected by King George and the British Parliament. Representatives from each colony came together and became resolved to declare independence from England on July 4, 1776. Thus, began the new nation of the United States of America. As a case study, what were (some of) the positives and negatives of the American Independence? 

(Granted – these are very short lists, but it is enough to get the point across.) 

The Good of American Independence

  • American people were no longer oppressed or misrepresented. They had the freedom to represent themselves. 
  • They were able to create government with laws according to their own values.  
  • The people felt pride in being their own independent nation, achieving peace of mind from no longer being controlled by British tyranny.

The Bad and Ugly of American Independence

  • The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives on the line – and many of them died for their cause.  
  • The nation had to figure out a set of core values as well as how to establish an economy.
  • The people were now separated from their founding nation, England, which before the war gave them strength and protection.
  • The act of separation, which later lead to a declaration of war, was not a peaceful beginning. Many people lost their lives for the sake of their independence.

We can transition from the case study of American independence and relate it to the positives and negatives of personal independence.  

Personal Independence

In his classic work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discussed the fact that the pathway of maturity leads you from dependence to independence. A dependent person requires other people to do things for them or even think for them. A baby is a simple example of dependence since they are fully reliant on their parents for their survival. But many adults never fully mature past this maturity stage, so they continue to be dependent on others – financially, physically, or emotionally.  

Covey says that “Independence is the paradigm of II can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.” (49) 

True independence of character empowers us to act rather be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. (50)

Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor who challenges people to take personal responsibility and focus on fixing yourself first – before you try to fix the world. (Video / Helpful article.) The message is similar. You mature past dependence in order to choose how you live and how you respond to life circumstances.  

The Good of Personal Independence

  • Independent people have the freedom to choose their values, interests, friends, career, etc. 
  • They are not controlled by society and circumstances. Their identity and emotions are not dependent on other people or what happens around them.  
  • Gives the opportunity to have personal pride and grow toward excellence in life. 

The Bad and Ugly of Personal Independence

  • Independence can produce pride, division and isolation from others.  
    • It ends with Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock where you can say that you don’t need other people and they don’t affect you. (“a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”) 
  • Someone whose life objective is to be independent does not really care to add value to others.  
  • An independent person might see others as objects who are there simply to add value to themselves.

Interdependence is the Goal

After Covey’s quote above, he said that independence “is not the ultimate goal in effective living.” The goal is interdependence – since reality is interdependent. We live in a society, a community, and a family. Our economy is interdependent (I didn’t raise the chicken who laid the eggs I ate this morning). We are stronger and accomplish more as a community which has risen above independence to proactively add value to others.

As a leader – I strive to develop myself so I can be the best version of myself and better serve my community while adding value to others.  

As a country – the independent United States would do best if we became the interdependent United States. If individuals focused on improving themselves, we could then add value to our society – with the ultimate goal of adding value to the world. We started with a conflict. My prayer is that we mature from that conflict and grow to be a force of reconciliation and peace in the world.  

(Disclaimer: I believe that many people, organizations, companies, and even politicians have embraced this idea currently and in our nation’s checkered history.) 

Application Questions

  1. Is your goal to become independent or interdependent?
  2. Are you taking responsibility for yourself so that you can grow and then add value to others?

Reference: Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Fireside. New York, New York, 1989.

Read this post to learn more about living in community as interdependent people!

Shift to See the Other

Shift to see the other

Each of us has a world-view or “paradigm” through which we see the world and make value judgments. In order to genuinely love other people who are not “like us,” we need to acknowledge and try to understand their world-view. It requires a “shift to see the other” for us to value them and their perspective so we can a mutually beneficial relationship and add value to each other. Then we can be STRONG for our work with others.  

A Small Paradigm Shift 

Notice the lady in the featured picture above. What are your initial thoughts about her – as she proudly stands in front of this water buffalo? (as for another paradigm shift… these are buffaloes. The animals in the US are Bison – in case your teachers and books have steered you wrong!)  

 I encountered this lady in a small village in India. I saw her pick up a huge pile of fresh buffalo manure with her bare hands – which of course was off-putting and puts judgmental thoughts in your mind. Then, she noticed us standing near her home and quickly brought out three chairs for us to sit in. We were a bit wary of their cleanliness – but then again, we were in India – so we gratefully sat in her chairs. Then, she was so proud of her water buffaloes that she wanted her picture taken in front of them. We reflected on her kindness toward strangers and her pride in her water buffaloes and it helped us “shift to see the other” as we stepped into her world a bit. 

Finding the Right Map

In his world-famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey opens with an explanation that we need to have “inside-out” changes within our character in order to have true, lasting influence on others. He says that “private victories precede public victories” (p. 43) to show that we should not expect change in the external world until we have right map and become the person we want to see in the world.  

He says that we have a paradigm – or “map” (or worldview) – that provides a model or theory of the world. If the map is wrong, then we will always end up at the wrong destination – and probably frustrate yourself and many others in the process.  

Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps ... and our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.

He goes on to explain how we need to become aware of our maps and then evaluate and examine them to determine their accuracy. Then we can have awareness of the maps of others and be open to adopting them or adapting ours because of new awareness. This opens the opportunity to “shift to see the other.” 

See the Love (all around you)

One of my favorite bands these days is called The Brilliance. They opened for a concert for one of my other favorites, Josh Garrels, and I just fell in love with their music and friendly personality. They have a song called “See the Love” which hits on this subject of “shifting to see the other.” The challenge in the song is to recognize the reality of love all around you and to be a person who shines that love to others by seeing them for who they are created to be.  

Here is a short excerpt from the song: 

Learn to feel, 
Learn to begin again 
Open our eyes again 
To see our brother’s pain 

You can watch the music video HERE – or another one HERE – and read the lyrics HERE.

I hope that you are encouraged by this song and reflect on how you can be the love that you wish to see in the world.  

Application Questions:

  1. Are you willing to examine your map and the maps of others so you can shift to see the other? 
  2. How will you be the love you wish to see in the world?  

Reference: 

Covey, Shephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Fireside, New York: 1989). 

For more on this topic, see this post: Is Your Heart at Peace or at War?

Thinking Leaders – Stand for Progress!

Non-progress in India

Previously, I wrote on the first two leadership principles in the last chapter of The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. They were to “trade minds with the people you want to influence” and to ask yourself “What is the human way to handle this?” This week I want to discuss the third principle on “how to think like a leader.” 

Principle 3:  Think Progress, Believe in Progress, Push for Progress. 

Experience with non-progress:

I have had the privilege of traveling in India on three occasions over the past decade. On each of those trips, I was able to experience the life of Indian people in a very rural context (small villages, back woods, dirt roads). One of the aspects of these people and towns that struck me over and over was the fact that so many of them were using tools and methods that their ancestors would have used over a century ago. They were content to keep using short, homemade brooms that caused their backs and knees to hurt. Some used wooden, ox-driven carts to carry hay for their water buffaloes while the younger generation zips around on small motorcycles or plays games on their iPhones. Everywhere I looked, I saw examples of people who were not progress minded – and just continued doing what they had always been doing.  

Turning this personal:

But then I think about myself. Am I always progress-minded? Do I believe that I can and should improve? That there is opportunity for progress in our company or my family? I am recognizing that I need to “think progress” – or I might drift on the status-quo and be stagnant like all those people I encountered in India.  

Guidance from Dr. Schwartz:

David Schwartz provides helpful guidance as he said, “there are two special things you can do to develop your progressive outlook:  

  1. Think improvement in everything you do. 
  1. Think high standards in everything you do.” 

He tells a story of a teacher he had one year that did not believe in progress. She didn’t seem to care about the students or really believe that they could improve. She was not respected and the students ran over her all year long. Not much progress because there wasn’t a belief in progress. The teacher he had the next year (with the exact same set of students) set the tone from day one that she loved the students, believed in progress, and expected excellence from each of them. She received respect all year long – and progress was made. She “thought” improvement and had high standards.  

We are challenged to remember that the team, group, or family you lead will “adjust themselves to the standards you set” (and example you provide). They want to know if you think progress and what level of progress you expect of them.  

Helpful quotes to remember:

“Check the example you set. Use this old but ever-accurate quatrain as a guide: 

What kind of world (company/group/family) 
would this world be, 
If everyone in it
were just like me?”  

“The simplest way to get high-level performance is to be sure the master copy is worth duplicating.” 

Wow! That quote is good. I just wrote that down in the back of my planner!  

Application Questions:

Are you a progressive thinker? Or do you drift in the status-quo?  

  •  I know that it is a mix for your spheres in life – so think about progress opportunity in each life domain.  

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Developing a Life Plan

Life Pathway

I started a bit of a journey last year through a process of developing my “Life Plan.” I listened to a book called “Living Forward” by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. They teach about how to avoid the common problem of drifting through life without a plan or driving purpose. They challenge you to honestly evaluate your current situation and develop a vision for what kind of person you want to become and the legacy you hope to leave with others. I went through this exercise on my own, so I wanted to share parts of the process with you in hopes that it encourages or helps you. 

A summary of Living Forward by Michael Hyatt

  • Step 1 – complete an online assessment. 
  • Step 2 – write your Eulogy and Legacy statements. 
  • Step 3 – choosing and prioritizing your Life Accounts 
  • Step 4 – developing an Action Plan for each Life Account. 

Resources/Downloads – http://www.livingforwardbook.com/resources/ 

Step 1: Assessment

The first step in the process (besides reading the book) is to complete an online assessment to get you thinking about what they call “life accounts.” The assessment is a really helpful guide that helps you think about your passion and progress levels for each life account. I encourage you to complete the following assessment. It will take about 15 minutes. 

Living Forward Assessment – https://www.livingforwardassessment.com/ 

Michael Hyatt also wrote a book called “My Best Year Ever” and he created a shorter assessment for that book. So… if you’re thinking that you absolutely won’t do the first one – please do this one. 

https://bestyearever.me/

Step 2: Eulogy and Legacy

Step 2 in the Life Plan process is to write your Eulogy and Legacy statements.  

Eulogy

This is a tough but revealing exercise. The idea is that you should write your eulogy or the speeches that would be given at your funeral if you were to die today. Who would be there and what would they say?  

  • Don’t sugar coat it. Be honest about what you believe they would say about you – good and bad. This is the gut-check of where you stand today with your relationships.  
  • Don’t be too detailed with the list of who is there and who speaks. My list includes my wife, kids, parents, brothers, colleagues (that’s you!), friends, and mentees/students.  
  • My eulogy section is about 1.5 pages but could have been much longer.  

Legacy

In this section, you are answering the question – “How do I want to be remembered?” 

  • Write it in the first person (your point of view) and start each section with something like “I want (person/group) to know that…” or “…to remember me as.”  
  • The people or groups should be similar to your funeral groups. Mine are God, wife, kids, parents, colleagues, friends, mentees/students. 
  • Again – don’t be too lengthy. Otherwise, this could turn into an entire book! My legacy statement is about one page. 
  • The purpose of this exercise is to provide a vision for who you want to become and how you want to foster the important relationships in your life.  

Step 3: Establish Life Accounts

Step 3 is about Life Accounts. The idea is that you have different segments or categories of your life that require attention and can be prioritized and planned out. There is a “balance” in the account to gauge how healthy the account is, what progress is occurring, and what are your goals/vision for the future. The assessment in Step 1 already helped you think in that direction.  

So – you need to list out your life accounts and prioritize them. Below is my list – which generally followed the suggestions from the book, but I applied my own twists. Some of the accounts are difficult to find the right priority order – but in the end it doesn’t matter much – so just run with what makes sense. 

What matters most? 

  1. My Faith – God’s will, His truth, and my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  2. Being a witness and disciple-maker through all of the following priorities. 
  3. My physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being 
  4. My wife 
  5. My children 
  6. Extended family – parents, brothers, cousins, etc. 
  7. My vocation  
  8. Church and Ministry – outside of my vocation 
  9. Friends 
  10. Finances 
  11. Hobbies 

It might feel “selfish” to place yourself at the top of the list. We often hear the phrase that you should “put yourself last.” However, a wise man I know has told me multiple times – “The best thing you can offer your wife and kids is a healthy, well-adjusted, spiritually mature Daniel.” If I literally put myself last – then I would not be a very good husband, dad, friend, or employee. All my other priorities would suffer if I don’t take care of myself – my faith, mind, and body.  

Step 4: Life Plan Goals

This is the hardest and longest part of the process. You get to evaluate each of your Life Accounts and answer the question: “How can I get from here to where I want to be?” 

Here is the structure you should apply to each Life Account and a little bit of coaching for each section.  

Account 1: [Write your first account heading.] 

  • Purpose Statement: 
    • Short and to the point. What is your purpose or mission in this life account?  
    • Start with “My purpose is to…” or “My purpose in {life account} is…” 
  • Envisioned Future: 
    • What do you want for this life account?  
    • Write it as if you have arrived in that ideal future. Make it an “I am…” statement.  
    • Who are you in that future? What have you accomplished? What is your character? 
  • Inspiring Quote: 
    • They say this is optional – but I can see how it is helpful.  
    • Might be a Bible verse or a motivational speaker or from a favorite book. 
  • Current Reality: 
    • Reality check on where you currently are in this life account. The good, bad, and the ugly! 
    • Make it a concise bullet list – don’t want to write a book here! 
  • Specific Commitments: 
    • What are your short term and long term goals in this account? 
    • Make them SMART goals if you can – and keep the count limited or at least not too many overlapping goals.  

Once you fill this in – which will require multiple hours to complete – your challenge now is to read & revise it on a consistent basis. And to put the goals/commitments into practice. Finding someone to hold you accountable to following through is key to this.  

Photo: Taken by Daniel David in New Hampshire in the fall. We went to see the fall leaves and do some hiking with friends.