In a thoughtful break from my favorite detective novels, I decided to read some more about American history. I chose “Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader” by Robert Middlekauff. I was not disappointed. The book covers Washington’s life and career as a military leader. At the age of 22, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia and actively participated in the French and Indian War. He was a typical, rather hot-headed young man, but as he rose to the rank of the general in command of the continental army he learned to control his emotions. He evolved into a compassionate leader who inspired his troops and worked with the U.S. Congress to seek their aid and support in defeating the British.
Washington’s talents were many. He was incredibly tenacious and he never gave up. The hardships he faced were beyond belief. His troops were rarely paid for their service. His Congress had almost no money as it lacked authority to tax. Consequently, the inadequate troops had rags for uniforms, often no shoes, frequently no pay, meager rations and inadequate muskets and ammunition. There was a constant turnover of troops, with little opportunity to train the men.
Congress was a continuous frustration. But Washington handled it with a deft hand of a very skillful politician. He was a superb leader who led by example. He was always out with his troops. His modesty set him apart from most generals of his time. He had great vision. The author writes in the final paragraph:
“His conception of what freedom meant in a free nation is sometimes overlooked in the certitude of his physical bravery. He was a great general. After all, he fought and overcame enormous obstacles. But he also possessed a grand imagination and vision of his new country. That vision often set him apart and made him a great leader in the revolution. For Washington more than any other American, in or out of Congress, by his actions and examples, held together the political structure that constitutes the United States.”
Many aspects of what makes a great leader remain with me after the final chapter:
- Resolve. He stayed the course no matter how difficult it was.
- Servant Leader. He believed his role was to serve the American people and our Congress.
- Faith in God. In his farewell address to his army, he invoked the role of Proverbs as the underlining success of the army in the Revolutionary War. And then he offered his prayers to the God of the armies.
- Remarkable Patience. He knew how to effectively deal with a malfunctioning Congress, the French army and navy, the British army—knowing when and how to attack with a ragtag under-manned army.
- Modest and Humble. After a speech to his officers who were focused on rebelling against Congress for back pay, he pulled out his spectacles to read a letter and said, “Gentleman, you will permit me to put on my spectacles for I’m not only going gray but almost blind in the service to my country.” Their vote was over.
- Compassion. A deep love for his army and understanding of the terrible suffering they endured.
- Measured Judgment. He controlled his emotions and rarely acted impulsively.
- Focus. Total focus on defeating the British army.
- Great Communicator. He wrote thousands of letters to Congress, friends and peers.
I could go on and on, but I often think where the United States would be without the inspired leadership of George Washington.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.