George Washington

George Washington. Here’s a surprising fact from his life as a leader. The point of the story is about how much you get to do what you want to do as a leader. Take a look below.

leaderWashington was the primary commander of American military forces during the War of the American Revolution. That was 1775 to 1783. As overall commander—the army he led was seen as the key American force—Washington wanted more than anything else to engage the enemy British army in a single, big battle that he thought would win the war. He hoped to train, equip, and organize his soldiers so that this one big battle would be possible. That was his total orientation, outlook, and desire as the single most important leader in the American army.

But none of it happened.

Washington had to accept the reality of leading an underequipped and underprepared group of fighting men. He had to accept the hard truth that many of his men might leave at any moment, wandering back to their homes and families. He had to accept that just as important as winning a battle was the presence of his army at all—that it needed to stay in existence in order to symbolize resistance, endurance, and resiliency. It was far more likely that victory would come from slowly draining away the enemy’s will to fight instead of smashing its power in a single event. Indeed, had Washington followed his desire to fight a major and conclusive pitched battle it’s likely he would have lost and, in turn, taken a step closer to losing the entire war.

The very thing that he wanted to do—what he regarded as the key action for victory—was something he really never did, something he never allowed himself to do.  Sure, he participated in a major siege at Yorktown, Virginia in fall 1781. That was one, big smashing event of success against the British. But the real work of victory, the cutting away of Britain’s will to win the war, was accomplished in a million little ways over the course of an eight-year war. Washington’s judgment overcame Washington’s desire.

I urge you to ask yourself how successful you are as a leader at adapting to shifting circumstances. How far does your adaptability go? Which of your traits as a leader limits or emboldens your ability to adapt? And, probably more signicantly, are you able to accept the choice of adapting when it flies in the face of your preferences, your desires, your favored approach?

It’s the latter question to which Washignton could answer “yes.” Yes, he did set aside his preferences and beliefs. Yes, he did turn off the voice in his head that urged him to rely on what he wished to do. Yes, as I hope I’ve shown you, this is one of the hidden gems from the life and leadership of George Washington.