Case Studies

A Simple Lesson from the Declaration of Independence

By Brian Layer
Chief Executive Officer, N2Growth

Fifty-six Continental Congressmen signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.  With each quill stroke, the men committed treason and placed at risk their lives, fortune, and sacred honor. The act was more than symbolic; it added weight to the cause and tied their personal fate to the Revolution.  There was no denying they had skin in the game.

While the Continental Army had been at war for a year and relations with the crown were tenuous, the signing of that document signified a clean break, a moral purpose, and each leader’s commitment to the cause.  Although we live in a digital age, the courage displayed by the founders provides a lasting lesson.  Even today, a signed document carries special weight and there is no denying that the printed word carries an emotional gravity and permanence that digits never will.

By writing carefully, the congressmen left no doubt to their intentions and by signing they tied their fate to that of the fragile Nation.  Their leadership both framed the argument for the Revolution and left no doubt to their commitment to that cause. Even two centuries later, the unflinching hand of John Hancock remains united with the self-evident truths revealed in the Declaration.

This example teaches a special lesson in leadership. First, words count; they can change the course of history. When words matter like a statement of vision or purpose, the leader’s involvement is even more important. Unless you participate in the process of forming the words, you cede to others the ideas, the emotion, and the arc of your future. Second, your signature matters. Whether the document is a company values statement or a thank you note, a leader’s signature delivers special significance and emotional weight. Finally, if it’s important, print it. Messages run together on a screen but a piece of paper with a single purpose isolates an idea that you can carry, frame, or crumble but cannot ignore.

Are you doing all you can to frame your intention, signify your commitment, and share your ideas?  If not, take an example from the founders—pull out a piece of paper, put down your ideas, and sign your name.


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    Marlene Chism

    July 2, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Reputation is everything! This message is also a great reminder that when we sign our name to a credit card slip, mortgage, agreement, or contract, it means something. It seems that we take signing our name very lightly these days.


    Brad Brashear

    July 11, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I grew up with computers, paper was only what you did math homework on. I can type faster then I can write too, the words just flow and it’s easier.

    When it comes down to doing business though this completely flips. Something about the pauses and the finality of putting pen to paper changes things. I used to keep projects and what I assigned to the team in my head or just as original documentation on the computer, but then I rediscovered paper for myself.

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