George Washington, CEO?
Title: George Washington on Leadership
Author: Richard Brookhiser
Publisher: Basic Books, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0465003020, 272 pages
Review: George Washington on Leadership
By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract
Richard Brookhiser, a National Humanities Medalist, is a popular author, journalist and biographer. Considering his stellar previous work about America's founding fathers, as well as his deep knowledge of George Washington, you would expect his book about the first U.S. president's leadership traits to be good. And so it is, interesting and full of well-told stories.
Yet, it does falter sometimes. For example, the opening chapter lauds Washington's prescience for installing latrines in his soldiers' encampments. Such praise overlooks the fact that the Roman Army routinely dug latrines for its soldiers 2,000 years ago. Overall, Brookhiser usefully translates episodes from Washington's life into management lessons for today's executives, though it may strain the use of metaphor to rename his Mount Vernon plantation WashCorp and to classify the presidency as a start-up. Despite such small lapses, Brookhiser works many intriguing anecdotes into his narrative and demonstrates vividly just how Washington became such a significant leader. getAbstract welcomes his history-based examination of how to use Washington's leadership lessons.
A Leader in Full
George Washington was an exceptional leader. He was the ideal man to head the American Continental Army and later to become the United States' first president, its "founding CEO."
Washington became a leader early in life. At 21, he was commissioned in the colonial militia. After a notable, eventful career as an officer, he left the military. He then ran his Mount Vernon farm, a huge 2,500-acre enterprise in Virginia. He oversaw the 300 people who lived and worked on the giant estate. Washington did remarkably well as a gentleman farmer, and as a real-estate owner and speculator. He eventually became the wealthiest man in America. Washington's life is a soaring lesson in the vital, even ennobling nature of leadership - what it is, what it entails and what it requires. The primary leadership lessons from Washington's inspiring life include:
• Heed "the power of the obvious" - George Washington became commander in chief of the American Continental Army in 1775. His first General Orders forbade "cursing, swearing and drunkenness." He insisted that all soldiers attend "divine service." He instructed his officers to have their men install latrines ("necessarys") for all soldiers. Some Continental soldiers from rural areas were not very sanitary about their habits and Washington knew this would not do for thousands of men encamped together. He wrote, "The preservation of the soldiers' health should be [the] first and greatest care." Washington consistently demonstrated personal consideration for those he led.
• Evaluate "the power of rules" - The Constitutional Convention established the regulations and procedures for the U.S. presidency. The Constitution's Article II, Section 2, states that the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties." Washington went to the Senate for counsel about treaties he wanted to sign with Native American tribes in Georgia and the Carolinas. The senators tediously debated the issue, thoroughly frustrating Washington, who said he would "be damned if he ever went there again" to consult about treaties. He did not, nor has any U.S. president since. Sometimes new rules need a "road test" to make sure they are sensible and efficient.
• Change when necessary - Gentleman farmer George Washington inherited his beloved Mount Vernon in 1761. He grew tobacco, then the primary cash crop in Virginia. A finicky plant, tobacco places great demands on farmers. Do one thing wrong and the crop will fail. When the price of tobacco dropped in 1766, Washington quickly went against convention and converted his fields to corn, buckwheat and other crops. A sage leader remains flexible and is always willing to try something new if change is required...
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