Leadership from the past can set standards for today

Lt. Col. John McLaurin Jr.

By the time Meriwether Lewis turned 31, he had accomplished more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. His birthday was in August 1805, and in the previous week, he had successfully negotiated with the Shoshone Indians for horses that would take him and a crew of about 15, along with tons of gear, over the Continental Divide as they continued on the three-year journey that began the previous spring.
This story is wonderfully retold in the book “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose. There are many examples from Lewis’ life that we can still model today.
Lewis had exceptional leadership skills. He served in the Army. He was a Virginia farmer and served as President Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary for almost two years. He had an insatiable curiosity of a broad range of subjects.
After Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from France, Lewis was a natural candidate to lead an expedition to explore the uncharted territory.
The president described a 29-year old Lewis as “possessing firmness and perseverance of purpose. Committed like a father to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline and of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves.”
Imagine the president writing that on your performance report!
But Lewis never rested on his laurels. This journey required team building and leadership. There were no maps and many were convinced he would find the woolly mammoth still in existence, a navigable waterway that laterally traversed the entire continent, active volcanoes and salt mountains. Lewis was given about six months to form a team, choose supplies and then lead the expedition on this 5000-mile trek.
During the journey, Lewis safely led his crew through incredibly dangerous terrain. He successfully navigated his team through rapids that are still categorized as Class 6 today. He scaled mountains with tons of gear. He recorded more than 250 previously unknown plants and animals and lay to rest ideas that had been taken for fact up until that time.
On his thirty-first birthday, Lewis wrote, “This day, I completed my thirty-first year. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now sorely feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended.”
And then he pledged to redouble his efforts in the future.
Some of us feel we have reached a pinnacle at the seven-level, or when we receive a degree, or attained a specific rank. But good leaders never stop learning. If we do not improve ourselves then we are part of the sluggish status quo.
We should all commit to learn something new that improves our skill, sharpens our knowledge and opens our mind. We owe it to ourselves and our team members to never stop learning and improving.