Friday, July 18, 2008

Leadership Qualities of George Washington

Leadership Qualities of George Washington

Without question, George Washington stands in history as one of its greatest leaders. How many leaders could have pulled off what General George Washington did in the American Revolution? Under Washington's leadership, the ill-equipped and typically outnumbered Continental Army endured countless hardships and many disappointments and yet it came out on top! In addition, Washington helped navigate the infant United States through its most formative years, refusing opportunities for dictatorship, championing civilian authority over the armed forces, presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and serving as the nation's first President of the United States. There's never been an American leader quite like George Washington!

Washington's Military Leadership

Washington's record of military leadership began in the French and Indian War, a conflict he helped ignite. While his eagerness, ambition, and lack of experience got him into trouble (such as at Fort Necessity), other qualities emerged which would foreshadow George Washington's rise to greatness. These qualities included:

  • Toughness - Washington was, in every respect, a rugged frontiersman from an early age. He endured hardship on the frontier and survived several health challenges, including a major bout with dysentery. Washington was as hardy and downright "tough" as they came.   
  • Persistence - A lesser man would've resigned himself to failure and ignominy after the terrible debacle at Fort Necessity. Not Washington. He politically and painstakingly maneuvered his way back into the war as a member of General Braddock's staff, which gave him an opportunity at personal redemption and to showcase the next quality of his leadership....
  • Incredible bravery - Washington repeatedly exposed himself to danger, at one point even charging his horse between lines of his own men who were mistakenly firing volleys at one another! During Braddock's infamous march and defeat, Washington was among the only mounted officers to emerge unscathed. Four bullet holes in his uniform and two dead horses were ample testimony to his courage and providential protection.
  • Organization - Following Braddock's defeat, Washington was posted in western Virginia to protect citizens from Indian attack. Though these years were frustrating for him, Washington had to contend, on a regular basis, with matters of supply, morale, discipline, and communication. He developed critical experience in organizing and managing troops under his command. 

By the time of the American Revolution, George Washington was widely respected as a proven soldier, charismatic leader, and accomplished military expert. In spite of his actual record as a battlefield commander (which included one minor skirmish victory and one embarrassing loss), Washington was the perfect choice for command of the Continental Army.

In the course of the American Revolution, Washington's qualities of personal bravery, toughness, and organization shone through, as did his mixed record in actual battlefield command. He had a tendency to leave his flanks exposed and, at times, tragically failed to reconnoiter the ground. Nevertheless, he maintained a firm grasp on the overall strategic situation and ultimately achieved success.

Washington's generalship during the Revolutionary War has been scrutinized by pundits and scholars, who often regard him as a mediocre tactician. They point out that he lost more battles than he won. Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father and George Washington on Leadership, argues (correctly) that war is "not the World Series." Says Brookhiser: "It's not the best out of seven."

Brookhiser is right. Washington was an extraordinary leader, regardless of his battle record. Brookhiser is not the only one who has written on Washington's leadership. James Rees, the executive director of Mount Vernon, published a similar book recently. George Washington's Leadership Lessons is a good primer on leadersip and an excellent introduction to Washington's greatness as a leader.

Washington's Political Leadership

As the war entered its final years, Washington dealt with enormous fatigue in the ranks of his army. That his troops were underpaid (if at all) and poorly supplied took its toll in morale, creating dangerous situations of unrest. Washington's charismatic presence, moral strength, and political maneuvering kept the Continental Army from rebelling against the weak civilian government and the Revolution degenerating into civil unrest.

After the war, Washington was called upon to head the Constitutional Convention. His presence was indispensable to the document's ratification. And then as U.S. President, Washington navigated the nascent country through turbulent waters, positioning it to become eventually the world's leading superpower.

Washington's Moral Leadership

Washington's greatest leadership quality was probably his high moral character. In spite of the opportunity to seize dictatorial power during and at the end of the war, Washington refused. Even when it seemed that seizing full power would be the only way to keep the Continental Army from revolting, Washington forcefully declined and maintained his support for the official government of the United States. When the peace treaty with Britain was finally sealed, Washington resigned his commission in December 1783, formally handing control of the military to the United States Congress. It was one of the very few times in history that a person with such immense power voluntarily walked away from it.

Years later, Washington was of course called back to service as President of the United States. And yet again, Washington voluntarily gave up power by declining to seek a third term as President. Sadly, the years of service to his country took a toll on his health, and he died roughly a year and half after retiring to Mount Vernon.

The character of George Washington remains his greatest quality and it was fundamental to setting the United States on the right path.

Washington's Legacy

It's hard to picture the United States of America existing today, without George Washington being at the center of its birth. So many things in our founding period could've gone terribly wrong, but they didn't, because Washington was there to lead the nation in the right direction. Remove Washington from the picture, and the picture gets very dark indeed. George Washington was truly the indispensable man.

In your opinion, how great a leader was Washington? And what qualities made him so?

Editor's Note: This post was revised February 9, 2011, to incorporate new content. Originally, it was written simply to recommend some leadership books focusing on Washington, but in light of some feedback, I edited it to include more content. Additional information on Washington can be found by reading my blog post titled "Important Facts About General George Washington."


Anonymous said...

What timing!! I actually have some posts lined up on my blog that reflect on the leadership of GW. It's actually a paper I wrote for a Leadership class a few months back. He was a great leader, and held himself to the highest of standards. Check out my blog in the next few days if you want to read my write-up!

Anonymous said...

it doesnt even show his leadership qualities and its really boring

Anonymous said...

SO BORING, who cares. this whole site wasnt useful in the paper im writing :[


Anonymous said...

This was and it wasnt helpfull for my homework. Thanks and no thanks.

Anonymous said...

This was and it wasnt much help to me.

Brian Tubbs said...

To those of you who posted that the post wasn't that helpful, I have updated it (as of February 19, 2011). Hopefully, you'll find the new post better. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I found this very helpful! Thanks!!

Aimee g said...

I actually enjoyed this very much !

Thank you . !

Anonymous said...

Amazing help to me thank you ;)

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Anonymous said...

Found this very interesting and informative. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Wow really nice my teacher liked this site thanks a lot

Anonymous said...

you just saved me from an F thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

i thought this was extremly helpful! i am writing a paper of the qualities of a great leader and george washington in particular. it gave me a general understanding and it allowed me to add my own thoughts to it. thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is still not helpful and I'm writing a report

Anonymous said...

so helpful!

Anonymous said...

This was really helpful to me! I couldn't find any other sites with the information that you have. I'm writing a paper on George Washington's leadership strengths and this was perfect. Thank you!

dennymour said...

Really “George Washington” played a significant role in ‘American Revolution’! The best quality, possessed by him was his “persistency”, irrespective of any condition or situation. I am very influenced by this one of great leaders in history.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe some of this info as, "reliable", for if you realized that the Crossing of Deleware lead to poor leadership, and the reason for George's victory was the fact that his soldiers have trust in him, not entirely his leadership skills, which clearly were not very decent

Unknown said...

Thank you very much! I found this very helpful!

Anonymous said...

helped a lot thanks! Just gave me a better grade!

Margonline said...

Toughness and Persistence are the amazing characteristics I liked in George Washington. He is such an inspiration to many and is a role model for a great leader in previous century.

Anonymous said...

This Was SOOOO Helpful For My Homework !Thanks Heaps Admin!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Brian Tubbs for spending your time on making this article for people like me to read and use (while citing it, of course). I am currently trying to get a high school credit point, and I thank you for helping me out! :)

Anonymous said...

This was not extremely helpful but did give me some ideas.

Maybe change like for example bravery to brave though.


Anonymous said...

You guys are all being really mean about this site! This site explains exactly the title, George Washington's leadership. If you think it's too boring then maybe you shouldn't be doing a project on George Washington. This is a great site. Keep up the good work!

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it's so bad I learned nothing it's TRASH but thank you for wasting my 1 hour to read .

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