Episode 396: Leadership Wisdom for the Ages: An Interview with Ben Franklin

Episode Summary

Throughout this episode, you’ll learn about Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues, what inspired him to create them, and how they inspired us and later became a transformational template for Steve’s first book, “Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders.” We also go through each virtue, learn how to turn them into habitual practices, how each of the 12 principles can help you become a highly successful leader, and much more.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast show wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host. We are privileged that you would join us today. For me, that is such a huge motivator and inspiration. We can learn so much from history, and my special guest today is none other than Benjamin Franklin. That’s right. He was born in January 1705, he died in 1790, and lived a long life; was active as a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher, and political philosopher; he was among the leading intellectuals of his time. Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a drafter and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the first postmaster general of the United States. He accomplished so much in his life, and I am so glad to have him as a special guest. I’d like to share some of the experiences and wisdom that Ben shared on both change, leadership and improving yourself. Let’s jump in with our interview. Well, welcome, Mr. Franklin. The first question today is what is one of the most profound experiences you had in growing up that has influenced your life? 

Benjamin Franklin: When I was around 19, I was an apprentice for a print shop. On a Friday at the end of work, the owner came to me and said,” Ben, you are one of the most hard-headed, ignorant, and obnoxious people I have ever met.” I was devastated, and that weekend reflected on what I could do to be a better person and someone that would make a difference in life and in the world. This is what led me to coming up with the 13 virtues that could help me do that.  

Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Well, thanks, Ben. What were your thoughts about how you might improve or form winning and virtuous habits? 

Benjamin Franklin: I’ve actually written about this in my autobiography. It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found that I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another. Habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was something too strong for reason. I concluded, at length. that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that, to the contrary, habits must be broken, the old habits, the bad habits, and good ones acquired and established before we could have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.  

Steve Shallenberger: Well, Ben, I love that perspective. How did you come up with the 13 virtues, and why was that important to you?  

Benjamin Franklin: Well, that’s a good question, Steve. For this purpose, I therefore contrived the following method. In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I met in my reading, I found the catalog more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, and even to avarice and ambition. I proposed to myself for the sake of clearness to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annexed to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under 13 desirable names of virtues all that at that time occurred to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept which fully expressed the extent I gave to its meaning.  

Steve Shallenberger: Wow, okay. That’s a great observation. Ben, can you share the 13 virtues that you settled on with us?  

Benjamin Franklin: Well, sure. The names of these virtues with their precepts were, in order: Number 1: Temperance. Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation. Number 2: Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself, and avoid trifling conversation. I found that when I listened, I heard so much more. Number 3: Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. I found that this helps you be more efficient and focused. Resolution is number 4. Resolve to perform what you ought to; perform without fail in what you resolve. Number 5 is Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others, or yourself. In other words, waste nothing. Number 6: Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful and cut off all unnecessary actions.  

Benjamin Franklin: Number 7: Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly. Number 8: Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty. Number 9: Moderation. Avoid extremes. Forebear resentful, resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. Number 10: Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness and body, clothes, or habitation. This gives you a streamlined life and an uncluttered mind. Number 11: Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. At number 12: Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation. And number 13: Humility. Imitate Jesus or Socrates. Having humility helps keep everything in perspective. 

Benjamin Franklin: My intention being to acquire the habitude of all of these virtues. I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, and when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another and so on till I should have gone through the 13; and as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that in view, and as they stand above as I just described.  

Benjamin Franklin: So, for example, temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquired and established, silence then would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improved in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was not obtained rather than by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into, prattling, punning and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, might allowed me more time to attend to my project and my studies. Resolution, once because habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all the subsequent virtues. Frugality and industry, freeing me from remaining debt and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of sincerity and justice, et cetera. Conceiving then that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, and I contrived the following method for conducting that examination. 

Steve Shallenberger: Wow. That is amazing, Mr. Franklin. How were you able to stay focused on the 13 virtues so that you could make them a habit in your life? 

Benjamin Franklin: Well, I made a little book in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I ruled each page with red ink so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, and marking each column with a letter for that day corresponding to my 13 virtues. I crossed these columns with the red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues. So I actually had 13 rows there in my little grid; and in its proper column, I might mark by a little black spot every fault I found upon examination to have committed respecting that virtue upon that day. 

Benjamin Franklin: I determined to give a week’s strict attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every one of the least offenses against temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of that day. Thus, if in the first week, I could keep my first line, marked T for temperance, clear of spots, I supposed that the habit of that virtue so much strengthened, and its opposite weakened, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week, keep both lines clear of spots. Proceeding thus to the last, I could go through a course complete in 13 weeks, and four courses in a year. And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplished the first, proceeds to the second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I had made in virtue by cleaning successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should be happy in viewing a clean book, and after 13 weeks of daily examination.  

Benjamin Franklin: And this is my little book. I had this motto at the end, lines from Addison’s Cato. “Here will I hold. If there’s a power above (And that there is all nature cries aloud through all her works), He must delight in virtue; And that which he delights in must be happy.  

Steve Shallenberger: Well, Mr. Franklin, we are so grateful that you could join us today. Your life, your discipline, your example and efforts have had an indelible impact on humanity for all time forward. 

Benjamin Franklin: Well, thank you so much. It’s been a delight to be with you.  

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, so now, some 200 years later, as we began our research in Becoming Your Best into what sets apart high-performing individuals and organizations from others, little did we realize that one day, Benjamin Franklin’s 13-virtue plan, that template, that idea, that model, would be an inspiration for a transformational template to master what we discovered in our research. After interviewing over 150 presidents, CEOs, and leaders from around the world and many more since that time, we discovered 12 things over and over again that highly successful leaders did that created excellence and success in their own lives and in that of their teams and organizations. We found that across the board, people and leaders in all walks of life could master and apply these 12 principles to get the same results of excellence. We discovered that these principles are universal and timeless. You will see all of Ben Franklin’s virtues are represented in these 12 things. We didn’t invent or create these principles. They belong to all humanity, and we described them the best we could. 

Steve Shallenberger: We put these principles in my first book, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, and gratefully it became a national bestseller. The book describes what the principle is, why it is important, and how to make each principle a habit in your life. One key way to make the principle a habit is to work on one principle a week – thank you, Ben Franklin – and then the next week, the next principle, and so forth. Then on the 13th week, take time to reflect how you are doing on the 12 principles of highly successful leaders. Then start over. That is 13 x 4 = 52. So 13 reviewing the 12 principles and reflecting x 12 courses, have it throughout the year, and you can work to master the 12 principles for the rest of your life. An ever-inclining program of excellence of helping you become your best. 

Steve Shallenberger: Do you know what it takes to form a habit? Well, if you said “repetition,” you are right. The question is how much repetition? Studies have shown that if you do something 62 to 65 times, it will be yours. It starts becoming part of your DNA, it becomes a habit, it becomes a slave that works on your behalf to do the right things. I have found that as I quietly review the 12 principles and ponder about each one and reflect on how I can improve, the inspiration, motivation, and ideas come on ways that I can do better on that pathway to becoming my best. I ask myself: “How am I doing, and how can I do better?” Well, here are the 12 principles of highly successful leaders. And imagine yourself. just like Ben Franklin taught us in his example can impact your life, working on one a week. Here they are:

Steve Shallenberger: Number 1: Be true to character. Be honest and have integrity. Number 2: Lead with a vision. In everything you do, what is the vision and what is the inspiration, the why? Number 3: Manage with a plan. In other words, have a way to make your vision a reality, having goals and setting up your plan. Number 4: Prioritize your time; so doing what matters most. One of the best ways to do that is pre-week planning. Number 5: Live the Golden Rule in business and in life. This is foundational to successful relationships and teams, and especially being effective together. Number 6: Build and maintain trust. This is the glue that holds us all together and makes things work. Number 7: Be an effective communicator, being able to listen – I love that comment about silence by Ben Franklin – and then being able to share your thoughts respectfully and creatively. Number 8 is innovate through imagination. We’re all blessed with an imagination. Now build on these other things. You can do it together by starting with respect or living the Golden Rule, maintaining a high trust and being an effective communicator. Now you can solve problems together, and that’s how we do it.  

Steve Shallenberger: Number 9: Be accountable. In other words, take responsibility for your actions and control what you can control. Number 10: Apply the power of knowledge. Ever be learning, gaining new ideas and perspectives and thoughts. Number 11. Live in peace and balance; having a sustainable life of health and peace and happiness, which allows you then to extend your impact over a longer period of time. Number 12 is to never give up, but to learn from our failures and to fail forward into experience a triumph and to keep getting up.  

Steve Shallenberger: These 12 principles will have a profound impact on our lives and impact us in every way. The influence and impact on my life and your life, my organization and your organization, which means your family, team, company, organization, is enormous in terms of greater happiness, joy, peace, health, and prosperity. One recommendation we have is if you don’t currently have a copy of the book Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, we recommend you invest in one, either printed copy or audible, which are available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Work on one principle a week. and the return on investment will be compounded many times over throughout your life for good. If you’re interested in a deeper dive and want to experience a live experience, go to the Becoming Your Best website, which is, then consider joining one of our live virtual seminars. These will all be helpful and will have an enormous impact for good. These all help in mastering and developing the habit of living the 12 principles of highly successful leaders. The impact will be huge in your life and the life of others. 

Steve Shallenberger: It has been a delight to be together. Today I’d like to finish with one of my favorite quotes that’s long impacted me: “I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden. I will push you upward, onward, or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half of the things that you do you might as well just turn over to me for I will do them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed, but you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, then after a few lessons. I will do it automatically. I am the servant of all great people and, alas, of all failures as well. Those who are great, I have made great, and those who are failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, though I work with the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human. You may run me for a profit or run me for ruin, it makes no difference to me. Take me, train me and be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me, and I will destroy you. Who am I? I am Habit.” 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s what we’re talking about today: putting in your life, building into your life inspirational, motivational, timeless, universal principles that will help you have greater happiness, joy, and prosperity. We wish each one of you the best in your journey of becoming your best. Know that as you work on becoming your best, not only does it impact your own health and happiness and prosperity, but everyone with whom you come in contact. Thank you for joining us today, and we wish you all the best. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader

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