Pilgrims and Progress: Practical Pointers from Puritan Predecessors

Another Thanksgiving just passed here in the United States. Millions gathered with family and friends to enjoy time together and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Americans have much for which to be grateful, including the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in this great nation. The history of Thanksgiving is closely tied to the history of the people who began laying the foundations of our prosperous country and way of life, and there are many practical lessons we can learn from these people that will help us find success in our current vocations. Let's focus on four important leadership lessons we can take away from the first Puritan settlers to arrive in North America and how these lessons can be applied in today's business world.

1. Begin with a vision.

Nearly four hundred years ago, Puritans crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the Mayflower in search of a better life in a new land. These pilgrims were seeking to create a new colony that would both allow them to worship God as they saw fit and serve as a model Christian community for the rest of the world. They wanted to establish a society in which to better their own lives and the lives of others by spreading the gospel.

Successful organizations in our modern world must start with a vision, too. In fact, a good first step in launching any enterprise is creating a vision statement. The vision statement serves as an articulation of your company's mission; it is a clear declaration to the world of the reason or reasons your institution exists. It also allows you to begin formulating an operational framework in which to establish measurable goals. Your success (or lack thereof) at meeting these goals will indicate how successfully your association is moving towards completion of the vision.

2. Be flexible.

William Bradford was a passenger on the Mayflower and future governor of the Plymouth Colony. In his history of the settlement, Of Plymouth Plantation, he recounts how the passengers desired to sail farther south after having reached what is today the Massachusetts shore. However, the danger of rough seas and jagged rocks prompted them to turn back to the safe harbor of their initial landing. Although it wasn't their first choice, the Puritan settlers decided to accept what they believed to be God's will and endeavored to make the most out of the land they returned to rather than risking total disaster on the seas.

Successful businesses likewise need to be able to adapt, especially in our rapidly changing world. People, ideas, and technology move at a dizzying pace in the twenty-first century, and organizations that are slow to adapt are often left in the dust. Adaptability is a key to survival, and those companies that can embrace change and create workplace cultures comfortable with change can give themselves a tremendous advantage over the competition.

3. Commit to success.

The Puritans knew they were risking their lives by making the treacherous trip across the ocean to a land where no European settlements existed, and indeed half of the passengers who made the voyage would not survive into the spring. However, Bradford informs us that those who survived were able to do so through the complete dedication of the small number of able-bodied Puritans who cared for and nursed the incapacitated and ill members of the community until they were able to recover their health. Whoever was able to contribute did so wherever and however they could to ensure the survival of the colony through that devastating winter.

Although it usually is not a life-threatening decision, launching a new business venture is full of risks that can severely impact oneself and one's family. Devote your time and energy to the enterprise, especially at the outset when things are most apt to go awry. Surround yourself with others who are also invested in the success of the mission. Doing so will tremendously enhance your chances of achieving your goals. You may be surprised at what can be accomplished with a reliable, steadfast team and a focused, driven leader.

4. Show appreciation for your achievements, and share in the fruit of your labors.

After the Puritans were finally able to establish themselves in their new colony with the assistance of friendly Native Americans, they took time to give thanks to God for their bounty in a feast that lasted for days. They shared food and fellowship with each other and with their Native American allies, and in doing so they strengthened bonds within their own community and within the region that would help the settlement for decades to come.

When your business or institution achieves something notable, share your success with those who helped make the achievement possible. Show your appreciation to your team. Reach out to the community and thank the people for their support. Find meaningful ways to show your gratitude to employees, partners, and community members alike. Doing so will engender good will and loyalty for your company both within and outside your organization.

When the Puritans arrived at Plymouth in the fall of 1620, a new chapter in history commenced. The Pilgrims' devotion to their cause laid the groundwork for an experience that would shape the course of this nation and greatly impact the world, and the story of their arrival provides wonderful lessons in practicality, determination, and thankfulness. Take time to reflect on these lessons and give thanks for your blessings this Thanksgiving.

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