Much could be said about the father of our country. An accomplished businessman, a courageous military leader, and eventually, the first president of the United States, George Washington was a leader through and through. He commanded the respect and loyalty of those he lead—from the soldiers under his leadership as commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, to an entire young nation ready to embrace its hard-won freedom. Washington even drew the admiration of his enemies.
But one doesn’t become an effective leader without a governing set of principles, and Washington was no exception. And luckily, for those wanting to learn from his example, he laid out the values that defined him in many letters and addresses throughout his years of public service.
While there are several principles that George Washington lived by, let’s focus on three that I believe were his solid foundation.
Principle 1: Your Actions Define You
Early on in his military career, George Washington held a few different military titles. But titles, as those under his command would soon find out, do not define you.
On Jan. 8, 1756, Washington, recently promoted to colonel and named commander of all Virginia forces, challenged his officers to a higher standard: “Remember that it is the actions, and not the commission, that makes the officer, and that there is more expected from him, than the title.” (http://www.notable-quotes.com/w/washington_george.html)
Washington was well-aware that it’s easy to become proud. To encourage both humility and exceptionalism, he made sure that his officers cared more about the decisions they made and less about the title they held. Every soldier he commanded, no matter their status, knew that hard work and a team attitude were expected—vigilantism would not be tolerated. In this way, Washington called to the hearts of his men and gave them a code of conduct to live by. It’s no wonder, then, why he became arguably one of the greatest military leaders the world’s ever known.
Principle 2: Trust God, Encourage Each Other
It was 1776—the height of the Revolutionary War. In a letter dated July 2, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, reinforced to his officers and soldiers where their focus should be in their struggle for independence against the British.
“Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions—The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny mediated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world, that a free man contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.” (http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/collection/other_1776jul2.html)
Reliance upon the Lord’s providence was something Washington greatly valued, and it’s clearly the center of this letter. One can only imagine just how much he prayed to God, asking Him to grant victory, especially during the Revolutionary War. When an entire country is watching you, expecting you to deliver them from tyranny, turning to God for guidance is about all you can do. Washington’s trust in Him is very apparent, and he used that confidence from the Divine to rally his men. This not only lifted them up in a time of distress, but gave them energy to encourage each other on the battlefield.
George Washington was without a doubt a spiritual leader and mentor.
Principle 3: Always Be Honest
George Washington’s presidential farewell address entitled To the People of the United States is read annually in the U.S. Senate chamber. This long speech, which is really more of a personal letter, brought together a lifetime of wisdom, and for the last time as a public figure, Washington had the chance to share it.
He proclaimed: “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.” (http://www.notable-quotes.com/w/washington_george.html)
By today’s standards, some might view honesty as a value that shifts depending on the situation, but Washington embraced truth-telling as a lifestyle. He believed that honesty should apply to every area of one’s life, no matter the arena, and that following this principle, one could go far. Such was certainly the case for George Washington, who is still regarded as one of our country’s greatest leaders, and certainly, presidents. But even more than that, he’s remain respected as simply a great man—and that’s a reputation worth trying to model.
What set of principles do you live by?