The Declaration of Independence Still Inspires

Every Fourth of July – yesterday was no exception -- I print out a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I read and study it.

Without fail, I find some nuance and current relevance that I missed before. I always get inspired about my work in the courts and, of course, my country. (I’m an immigrant, born to German parents, and was educated in this country. I became a proud naturalized citizen of these United States, along with my beaming parents, in a ceremony in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the memory of which still gives me goose bumps.)

The famous words of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, an action of the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776, signed by people whose names are on the street signs of Williamsburg, Virginia (where I live) and every city and town in the United States, blow me away every time I reread them:

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.

Whenever I read these words, I marvel at their punch, their brevity and clarity. If nothing else, our Founding Fathers cannot be criticized for being wishy-washy.

Court leaders and managers could do worse than to use these few words as models as they try to do what Peter Drucker says that all successful managers do: define the values, vision and purpose of their organization; determine what results are wanted; define the spirit and culture of the place; and bring people together for joint performance.

Above all, urges management guru Marcus Buckingham, be clear (see Made2Measure, Performance Measures = Clarity, August 5, 2007). I can think of no better prompt for a strategic plan than “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” What “truths” about our courts and court systems would inspire employees and stakeholders alike to exert greater discretionary effort to the cause? Figure it out, and you're on your way to strategic thinking and acting on a large scale.

I was first exposed to the Declaration of Independence in high school and earlier, as most of us were, but I never really paid much heed until much later, when some of the founding fathers of court administration and their disciples (Ed McConnell, Geoff Gallas and Karl Barr, to name just a few) really thrust the document on my attentions in a way that I could not ignore. I am indebted to them.

Happy (Belated) Fourth of July.

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