The American Adventure: The Power of Influence

Our opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July this week gives us a chance to also celebrate profound lessons learned from those who have helped shape the American Dream. A couple of years ago, The Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom was retitled to “The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders”. But The Hall of Presidents would have been better titled “A Celebration of Liberty’s Chief Managers”. For while there are many men in that inspiring show who have exhibited great profiles of courageous leadership, there are a great many others there who simply held the highest office of management, leaving little mark on our country.

Conversely, admission to being spotlighted in The American Adventure requires that you demonstrate fortitude, bravery, and compassion. These are attributes of great leaders. In this attraction there are many stories of individuals who never held great positions of power: John Muir, Charles Lindberg, Matthew Brady. Moreover, The American Adventure is a celebration, not just of individuals, but of great peoples–pilgrims, pioneers, soldiers, even protestors. Each has had an enormous impact on our country, not because of their position, but because of their individual contribution and influence.

Speaking of protesting, Susan B. Anthony was not known for holding public office. She couldn’t even vote for it! In fact, she was arrested for doing so. Conversely, she was a great and courageous leader who fought for women’s rights.

These pins and buttons from the 1900s celebrate Susan B. Anthony’s quest for a women’s right to vote. They are on display at the National Treasures Museum Exhibit adjacent to the attraction.

Her longtime friend, Frederick Douglass, started from even more difficult circumstances. He not only couldn’t hold office or vote, he was born into slavery as another man’s property. He spent his lifetime fighting for emancipation and for many of the freedoms we all enjoy today.

This bust of Frederick Douglass was created for The American Adventure.

The American Adventure is filled with such examples. Two soldiers endure the hard snow of Valley Forge without shoes; John Muir advocates the need for national parks; Rosie the Riveter repairs battle ships through the night as loved ones were out fighting. As one Ayn Rand quote on the halls of the building notes: “Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” Each segment of the American Adventure represents the fire of those armed with their own vision.

In short, the message of The American Adventure isn’t about being the one in charge. You may be a CEO, but not necessarily a leader. You can set your sights on a bigger title, a larger office, and being in charge of everyone and everything, but none of that will make you a leader.

Who can question the influence of teachers on the future of America? This painting by Guy Deel is found in the American Adventure Gallery.

So next time you’re at The Hall of Presidents or The American Adventure, ponder your own legacy, made possible by those who have paved the way before you and made feasible by your own efforts to lead.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the qualities of a great leader?
  • Do we spend more time about increasing our area of control by being the one in charge? Will these things ultimately make us a better leader?
  • How can we increase our influence with others through our own courage, vision and performance?

Enjoy the Fourth of July. And between the fireworks and the pageantry, consider, what makes an American great, and what makes you a better leader?

J. Jeff Kober