3 Leadership Lessons from Hamilton

3 Leadership Lessons from Hamilton

We are in the throws of what I (Dr. Donnelly) am referring to as HamilWeek – The Good Doctors, along with some favorites, are off to see the phenomenon known as Hamilton this coming Sunday in New York. Excitement doesn’t really cover it, folks, I need to be honest. I have been waiting to see this ever since the original cast recording hit my iPhone in 2015.

I have listened to the OCR about four hundred bajilion times (accurate, scientific count) and desperately wish I could keep up with some of the incredible rap bits (still a nope), but I also keep discovering pieces of layered brilliance. If you have never experienced this masterwork, I encourage you to try. While seeing it is still cost/location prohibitive for many, the OCR and the Wikipedia summary are really all you need to get started.

We’re developing an entire series of leadership lessons from Broadway that will release later this year, but I decided – in light of HamilWeek – to give you all a bit of a preview. Without further adieu, here are 3 leadership lessons from Hamilton.

Talk Less, Smile More

The first time Alexander meets Aaron Burr (who, spoiler alert, kills him), he asks Burr for advice on how to get into Princeton and how to graduate hyper fast. Hamilton overwhelms Burr with his enthusiasm and Burr gives this piece of advice: “talk less, smile more.”

While Burr takes this to the extreme and we learn throughout the entire musical that no one ever had any idea what he stood for or against and therefore he was rendered ineffective in the founding of the nation – it’s still something we can all ponder on.

Often, leaders mistake “taking charge” with “being the loudest voice”. Don’t be. Improve your listening/smiling skills and then when you do speak, when you voice your opinion, it’s given more weight.


Take A Break

In the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton made several crucial errors in judgement. First, he stayed in Philadelphia alone instead of joining his family on vacation. Second, he slept with Mariah Reynolds. While the musical takes a few liberties with the details of who found out when, the core of the story is still the same. Hamilton traded instant gratification for his future.

He made a few more errors in judgement in cleaning up this mess – like publicly exposing the affair without checking with his wife first if she was down with that – and he slept with Mariah for any number of reasons, including that he was an idiot. However, he also didn’t have any of his people with him. He was exhausted, frustrated, scared, and summer in Philly is not – weather-wise – for the faint of heart. He didn’t have any of his safe people around him to tell him he was being an idiot, because they were all on vacation WHERE HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN.

So take note, y’all: take a break. Don’t put yourself in emotionally vulnerable positions without having your people around you to keep you in your right mind – especially when you’re in a fight with Thomas Jefferson about the very future of the American democracy.

History Has Its Eyes On You

I don’t think we Americans give George Washington quite enough credit for exactly how fundamental he was. Sure, we know he was our first president, and a decorated war hero, and most

students can tell you what went down at Valley Forge. However, what we really should focus on more is that he only served two terms. In the lyrics of the show, he says he wants to teach Americans how to say goodbye.

For about 2/3 of the musical, Washington serves as the moral compass for both Hamilton himself and the nation in general. Everything falls apart for a bit when he goes back to Mount Vernon – the Adams administration was a bit of a circus – and with the benefit of history, we can see why. Washington had a keen understanding of that “you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story” and therefore lived by his own compass. That’s not true for any of the other men we meet.

They – Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Burr as they are portrayed in the show – took Washington’s wisdom of remembering that history has its eyes on them as an excuse for pomposity and legacy. Washington never meant this advice to help them perform for the audiences of the future, but to remember to hold sacred the future generations we are all building for.

As you build your empire, or raise your children, or however you phrase what you’re called to, I’d encourage you to take a page out of Washington’s book. In order to honor the future generations, live by your own standards, and know when to say goodbye.

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