Often we put too high a premium on flexibility. In times of difficulty, it is tenacity that enables us to prevail. Old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness is normally in short supply but strong demand and thus is the first attribute of true leadership. Principles matter. And sticking to those principles demonstrates that they matter.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison was one of the most active speakers—and many wise provisions in the final document owe their origin to his foresight and learning. Deeply versed in theories of governance and profoundly affected by his Christian faith, he realized only too well that his gravest flaw was a tendency to become rather over-zealous during debate.
Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Madison wrote the brilliant Federalist Papers and was the trusted advisor and confidante of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Later, he would make a mark on history as the fourth President of the fledgling nation during particularly difficult days. But it was at the Convention that his gifts were most evident and star shone brightest.
Knowing that he was apt to get carried away when addressing the Convention, he asked a fellow Virginian to sit by his side and tweak his coattails if he seemed to be getting too obviously excited. After a particularly impassioned speech he sat down, almost exhausted, and reproached his friend for not pulling at his coat.
“Sir,” said the now obviously awestruck man, “I would just as soon have laid a finger upon lightening.”
Similar stories are told of many of the other founding fathers. When Patrick Henry spoke his hearers were always utterly mesmerized. When the firebrand Samuel Adams addressed his fellow patriots, it was said that he spoke with the voice of the divine. And when the stately Peyton Randolph rose, an admiring silence always seemed to envelope the hall.
There is a peculiar power in unswerving conviction that inevitably arrests the attentions of both men and nations. There is an almost indescribable appeal that attaches itself to uncompromising vision and principled passion. This fact is illustrated again and again all throughout history.