Visiting Mount Rushmore has been on my bucket list for some time.
My wife, daughter, son-in-law and I recently made the pilgrimage to South Dakota.
We’d been advised before-hand that construction around the monument’s visitor center might limit the experience. But juggling four sets of dates can be tricky and the Labor Day weekend worked best for everyone, so we decided to take our chances and proceed with the trip.
We were rewarded with gorgeous weather, few tourists and unimpeded views of America’s Shrine to Democracy.
In my newest book How Leaders Decide, I devote one of the 52 chapters to the story behind the story of Mount Rushmore, tracing the conception, local opposition, federal support and, ultimately, the completion of the world’s largest sculpture.
Here’s the story in brief: South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota’s mountains to promote tourism.
Robinson’s August 20, 1924 letter to Gutzon Borglum persuaded the great Danish-American sculptor to travel to South Dakota to determine where and how best to complete the monument.
Borglum chose Mount Rushmore, which—with its southeast exposure to the sun and solid foundation—he viewed as a grand location and one capable of supporting the carvings of America’s four great presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
“America,” said Borglum, “will march along that skyline.”
Work began in 1927 and was completed on October 31, 1941, and is a monument to:
Today, Mount Rushmore attracts more than 3 million visitors annually.
Exactly 67 years after Robinson first proposed his vision for Mount Rushmore to Borglum, the Soviet Union was collapsing.
Eight high-level officials of the Soviet government met on August 19, 1991 to plot a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev who was on holiday in Crimea.
The “Gang of Eight” ordered 250,000 pairs of handcuffs and 300,000 arrest forms be sent to Moscow. KGB personnel were recalled from holiday, informed their pay had been doubled, and placed on alert. The Lefortovo Prison was emptied to receive incoming prisoners.
On August 20, 1991, a curfew in Moscow was ordered, signaling an imminent attack on the Soviet White House. Russian President Boris Yeltsin delivered a fiery speech from atop a tank defying the coup.
Gorbachev rebuffed the coup and returned to Moscow.
But the damage was done.
On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Seven years later, Yeltsin resigned.
He was succeeded by his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin.
Each of us has the chance to make history every day.
A decision made today, this week or this month may be the difference in changing your organization’s trajectory and your destiny.
When you look back on your career, what decisions will you consider most important? What crowning achievement will you celebrate? What legacy will you leave?
Will your life’s work be a footnote to history? Or will you have built your reputation to last?
Order My book How Leaders Decide today to read more stories about the seemingly minuscule decisions in history that had exponential effects long term.
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.