Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to read Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. This biography of our first president won a Pulitzer Prize.
As you might imagine, there are many leadership lessons to be learned from studying the life of George Washington. These are ten that stood out to me:
My character and integrity, good or bad, will shape the culture of the entire organization.
“Washington believed that courage and cowardice originated from the top of an army. As he wrote during the American Revolution: ‘This is the true secret . . . that wherever a regiment is well officered, the men have behaved well—when otherwise, ill—the [misconduct]or cowardly behavior always originating with the officers, who have set the example.’”
Don’t pursue leadership, let it come to me.
“The hallmark of Washington’s career was that he didn’t seek power but let it come to him.”
People are watching for my reaction.
“One lesson he had learned from the French and Indian War was that fear was contagious in battle, especially among inexperienced troops.”
Seek the counsel of other wise leaders.
“Equipped with keen powers of judgment rather than originality, he was at his best when reacting to options presented by others. Once he made up his mind, it was difficult to dislodge him from his opinion, so thoroughly had he plumbed things through to the bottom.”
Embrace contrary opinions.
“It was true that Washington surrounded himself with loyal men, but he never walled himself off from contrary opinion or tried to force his views on his generals.”
Freely acknowledge the contributions of others.
“Never loath to credit his officers, Washington trumpeted Wayne’s virtues to Congress: ‘He improved upon the plan recommended by me and executed it in a manner that does signal honor to his judgment and to his bravery.’”
Believe the best in others.
“As a stalwart realist, he thought it dangerous to demand perfection from any human production and questioned ‘the propriety of preventing men from doing good, because there is a possibility of their doing evil.’”
Expect unity from the team.
“Through his tolerant attitude, he created a protective canopy under which subordinates could argue freely, but once decisions were made, he wanted the administration to speak with one voice.”
Don’t make decisions too quickly.
“Hamilton concurred that the president ‘consulted much, pondered much; resolved slowly, resolved surely.’ By delaying decisions, he made sure that his better judgment prevailed over his temper.”
Washington had a “tenacity of purpose, his singular ability to stalk a goal with all the resources at his disposal,” and “George Washington possessed the gift of inspired simplicity, a clarity and purity of vision that never failed him.”
What you may not know about me is that I’m a political junkie. Even though I have a business degree, my Master of Public Administration was obtained through the School of Political Science. In particular, I love presidential politics. The history. The strategy. The leadership. The personalities. It’s all fascinating to me.
With that in mind, I’ve established a personal challenge to read through one definitive biography of every president. I’m currently a third of the way through John Adams by David McCullough. I’m not committing to the pace, just the desire to “stalk” this goal. I’ll keep you posted as I make progress.