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George Washington as a Model Leader
I’ve been reading the Pulitzer prize winning book “1776” by David McCullough. It is a fascinating story about those who followed General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence for the 13 American colonies. Washington was named commander in chief even though he had no formal training in the military arts or any experience in leading others into battle. British troops, along with Hessian mercenaries, were the premiere military super power of the day. They were well-trained, battle-tested, well-equipped, and they outnumbered the Continental Army led by General Washington. In addition, American “Loyalists” provided resources and information to the British army. Furthermore, soldiers in the Continental Army frequently deserted, didn’t obey commands, and were underpaid, ill-equipped and poorly trained. Many of the soldiers got sick.
As might be expected, the British routed the Continental army in nearly every encounter and forced them to retreat. Washington’s leadership behavior was instructive. He kept his fears and anxieties to himself, and constantly urged his troops onward, reminding them of their great mission. He made mistakes, but he learned from each mistake. He gave credit to those following him, and assumed responsibility for failures. He made it clear to his subordinates that he followed orders from the Continental Congress (his board of directors), even though they had even less military experience than he did and were away from the fray. And when all looked lost, he rallied the troops to make a daring night-time raid across the Delaware River against the British encampment on Christmas evening as its snowed.
Of course, Washington was human and had his flaws. But his special talent was in holding the army together when all seemed lost. In today’s fast-moving economy, it is easy to be overwhelmed. If we work in a large organization, it can be overwhelming to see smaller organizations nimbly dance around us. If we work in a small organization, it can be overwhelming to see bigger organizations dominate the marketplace. George Washington is a model leader for any organization that is overwhelmed by adversity, but is pursuing a noble cause.