The Shaping: George Washington

For the second installment of the shaping I would like to cover the first president of the United States, George Washington. President Washington more than anyone else on this list serves as a behavioral influence, a guide stone and case study in leadership that I have chosen to adopt. These same lessons I think could also serve as a useful study for anyone who is in a position to influence whether intentionally or unintentionally to hold sway over the people around them. So with this all in mind lets talk about dead presidents shall we?

First and fore most among the life lessons of Mr. Washington is perseverance. How could it be anything else? There are maybe two, maybe examples in human history of a leader consistently overcoming inane odds to succeed where no one else gave them a chance. Think of the audacity it would take to persevere when being chased around a continent by the most effective army in the world. The fortitude it would have taken to survive through the cold hell that must have been Valley Forge, not to mention coming out the other side of it as a strong more effective army. George Washington and the soldiers he led consistently tested the limits of what is possible when man sets his mind to something. If you think you can not endure, dwell on them for just a moment. There were times when they legitimately had nothing except their ideas and beliefs to sustain them.

Second there is the necessary knowledge of when it is time to retire. He lived an active life and did many things with his time, but having read several biographies I can’t think of one instance when he stayed too long and tried to do too much. He resigned his commission to lead the continental army almost immediately after the conclusion of hostilities. He willingly stepped down as president when he could have kept running and held the office until death. He chaired the constitutional convention but knew when his input was needed and when it was best to perhaps keep his influence to a minimum instead. There is a lot of talk about a need for term limits in today’s congress. I don’t think this is necessary. Instead what we need is to establish what our mission is when we choose do something and then we need to know when our mission has been accomplished. There is no shame in relinquishing power, in fact there is much honor in it. Besides the pay is better in the private sector anyways right?

Thirdly, he shows us the value inherent in the twin virtues of remaining flexible and taking reasonable gambles. I will give you two examples, the battle of Trenton and his retirement land speculating. No conventional commander would have deployed on Christmas across a freezing river so he could ambush a superior force. It is a wild and wide eyed idea. It worked out though precisely because it was so unexpected. He had the reports to suggest it might work and sure enough that along with the element of surprise carried the day for him. We see this same attitude in his land speculating in the West(Appalachia and the original old west) after the war. He bought huge tracts of land with little surveying formally done on them and invested in land managers to look after much of it for him. There were times when this worked out, and other times when he would encounter squatters, disastrous mismanagement, and uncharted land features that significantly alter the value of a parcel of land.

For all these reasons and more I find our first president greatly admirable as a leader. Perhaps he wasn’t quite the thinker of some of the other men I will speak about. He was however at the very least their equal and frequently greater as an embodiment of values.


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