We remember Ben Franklin as a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, diplomat, and founding father of our country.
Too often we forget, however, that he was also an executive coach–especially for himself. And we probably wouldn’t automatically consider him a source of advice for setting New Year’s resolution, but he was.
At age 20, after running two businesses into the ground, Franklin committed himself to a life-long journey to self-improvement. To accomplish that goal, he created this list of thirteen principles of “moral perfection”:
- Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
- Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- 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.
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin recognized that creating resolutions didn’t require any real commitment; achieving them did. So, he steadfastly chronicled his progress until his death at 84.
Although I find all thirteen of the principles important, for me and my clients, number four causes the most difficulty: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” Tracking progress and remaining accountable to others are two ways to achieve this objective.
Most of us can figure out how to improve our lives, and each New Year’s Eve, millions resolve to do just that. But, by July, many have already abandoned their commitments to themselves. Backsliding becomes a summer sport!
At the beginning of each year, I work with executives to help them set their objectives for new year. Most of the time, they are eerily similar: increase sales, reduce turnover, increase profits and margins, gain market share, improve executive presence, and hire high-potentials.
This year, I’m going to use Franklin’s list to set my own goals and to encourage my clients to do so, too. More importantly, I’m going to track progress more judiciously for myself and my clients.
I don’t think Mr. Franklin would mind our copying his ideas. After all, they seem to have worked for him.