President’s Day & Leadership (2 Great Things)

February 22 was the day George Washington was born. It was originally the day declared for celebration of Presidents but that changed in 1971 when the third Monday in February was designed to be a national federal holiday, President’s Day.

As HR departments around the country know well, most private businesses do not close for President’s Day but schools and government offices are closed that day. So certainly  not as much work gets done on that Monday as might be expected. But there’s a bigger lesson in President’s Day (and in remembering our First President, especially). What made George Washington such a great leader and what can today’s HR managers learn from his example?

  • Stand up for what you believe. As the folks at Fox Business explained, what made George Washington’s leadership style so strong was that it was believable, achievable, and dedicated to a cause that others could embrace as well.
  • Respect those upon whom you rely. As a General, and later as President, George Washington had to be able to earn and maintain the respect of those whose ranks were below him. In order to do so, he had to get to know them, understand their circumstances and ambition, and demonstrate a genuine interest in their lives and wellbeing. This is why many soldiers were willing to follow him to their deaths. There was a sense of mutual respect, caring, and commitment as noted by
  • In common parlance, he was known as a man who “had some skin in the game” and who was willing to risk his own safety, not just that of those around him.  He did not live in luxury while his “men” were living in abject conditions. He made sure he exemplified all the values he asked them to uphold.
  • He made the best with what he had. Despite facing the world’s most efficient military machine (at the time) with what was arguably an understaffed and certainly underprepared army, he motivated and promoted his militia to produce the best results of which they were capable. And because they knew he cared, because they knew he was invested in them, and because they cared about him as well, they delivered. And succeeded against all odds.

There are no trenches to be dug out, no battle cry to rally the troops, and no need for the employees of most companies to pledge their lives to serve the team. But the notion of the style of a leader who “walked the talk,” who uplifted the spirits of those serving his cause, and who showed a genuine demonstrable interest in the people who supported him has not gone out of date. As we remember the Presidents who have served this great nation over the course of our lives, it is also an appropriate time to think about how we serve our corporate interests and those who we are leaders for. Following the example of George Washington may lead us to lead our teams to achieve and succeed in surprising and unexpected ways.