You, Sir, Are No George Washington!
Can the leadership of a modern president measure up to George Washington or Abraham LIncoln?
It seemed to be a good time to look at it in light of the current circumstance and my personal circumstance.
Here in the U.S. it’s President’s Day, celebrating that both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were born in February. It is a holiday for students, government employees, and banks, but not for everyone else, including Performance Management Trainers. The result of that is the amount of distractions around the house will make it difficult to get a lot done today; hence why you are getting this a day late.
Are you a “lessons learned” kind of person? You know, the one who looks for a lesson in everything? I try to be and that’s what led me here.
From a little research and reading, here’s what we know about the leadership of these former presidents.
Washington Showed Great Character in Leadership
What is cited repeatedly is Washington’s great moral leadership in the fledgling nation. It started when he was the army general and continued from there.
Multiple times the opportunity was presented for Washington to take over the country in an almost dictator like government. He repeatedly refused.
Instead he helped steer the leaders towards a representative government. Once the government was formed he immediately resigned his commission in the military.
He refused a third term as president as he felt that it would be too easy for a leader to become a dictatorial type leader with that many terms. Of course, a law to that effect wasn’t passed until after Franklin Delano Roosevelt served four consecutive terms.
Lincoln’s Leadership Reunited a Nation
First, despite what you might see in social media, Abraham Lincoln is not the father of the Internet quote. He was, however, an excellent communicator. As an example of that, look at the Gettysburg address. Edward Everett, the main speaker at Gettysburg that day, spoke for over two hours. Lincoln’s speech lasted about two minutes.
Which one do you remember?
However, that was not the primary skill that led to his leadership success. According to an article by Catherine Moreton titled 10 Qualities That Made Abraham Lincoln a Great Leader, Lincoln consistently displayed several top leadership characteristics, among them:
- Capacity to listen to different points of view
- Willingness to share credit for success
- Ability to communicate goals and vision
It was these characteristics and others that helped Lincoln garner the support he needed, to empower military leaders to move forward, and after the war to bring the states back together.
Presidential Qualities For Successful Leadership
Presidential Historian and Author Robert Dallek in his book Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents wrote that any U.S. President has required five qualities to be highly successful in that demanding role.
- Consensus Building
Both Washington and LIncoln had a VISION of how things should be and it was unshakable. They communicated it to those around them consistently.
Both had the sense to face the harsh realities of their circumstances yet did not let their PRAGMATISM interfere with the vision they wished to achieve. Facing reality helps you to develop better plans for success.
Both looked to BUILD CONSENSUS around them. Washington convinced the continental congress to take actions to establish the structure of our nation’s government. Lincoln worked with the legislature and other leaders to get everyone to agree on the proper path to take.
Both had the CHARISMA to attract and influence others, much of that not through a bombastic or highly outspoken style – Washington in particular was somewhat soft-spoken – but through the attraction of their character.
Both men were considered very TRUSTWORTHY. You could believe what they said and you could count on their word. Neither let their ego get in the way.
So, the BIG QUESTION You Knew Was Coming
Using the qualities listed by Dallek, how do our modern presidents rate?
Put aside political bias for the moment and closely examine from George W. Bush to Donald Trump. Which qualities stand out in each of them? Which do they lack? How did (does) that affect their performance and outcomes?
How do YOU rate on each of these qualities? What do you lack? How does that affect your desired outcomes?
The same qualities that help a U.S. President be successful are the same ones that can help you.
Trustworthiness is a key. Without trustworthiness nothing else is possible. Do you trust your people? Can they trust you? Learn more about the importance of trustworthiness here.
With that, you can effectively share your vision of what you want to accomplish, seek consensus with those around you, use a pragmatic outlook to anticipate and overcome hurdles, and use your natural charisma (we all have it) to influence others to work alongside you.