George Washington wasn’t considered a great leader just because he was a President or a general. Certainly those titles would confer upon him a lofty place as a leader. But, as Michael Lee Stallard recently wrote he embodied leadership through relationship, respect and selflessness:
“When King George III of England heard the news that Washington resigned his military commission without seizing power following the Revolution’s conclusion, he was said to have commented, ‘If it is true, George Washington is the greatest man in the world.’
The selfless behavior of Washington connected people with him as their leader because it promoted trust. When a leader demonstrates that he or she is leading for the sake of the mission and the people, rather than for self-serving purposes, people naturally become more trusting.
Stallard explains how Washington led through his communication style:
“George Washington increased knowledge flow. He had a reputation for being quick to listen and slow to speak. During the Revolutionary War, Washington listened to the advice of his war council, a group of soldiers who reported directly to him, and their advice helped him avoid what would have been costly mistakes. During the Constitutional Convention over which he presided, Washington rarely said a word other than to intervene and make decisions to break a logjam in the deliberations.”
Richard Neustadt, Presidential Scholar at Harvard University, observed “From the time he was a young man, George Washington kept a personal rule book to remind him of the behavior that he aspired to live out each day. Many of the rules embody human value and capture the respect and deference Washington showed for others throughout his life. Some entries read:
“Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present”; “Speak not when you should hold your peace”; “Use no reproachful language against anyone”; “Submit your judgment to others with modesty”; “When another speaks, be attentive”; “Think before you speak”; and “Be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion.”
Washington’s thoughtful approach to leadership in our hurried world is something we’d be wise to follow. Focusing on character, communication and respect can be learned and practiced so that when we’re under stress or time pressure, our values still show. The most thoughtful organizations help managers and leaders learn these skills through management training videos and programs.