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Douglass Hatcher, February 22 2022

3 Servant Leadership Lessons for Business Leaders Today from George Washington (Including One You've Probably Never Heard)

I wanted to write something to honor George Washington on his birthday which is today, Februrary 22. What better way to do that than to talk about Washington in the context of servant leadership, a characteristic great leaders in business today understand and exhibit.

If George Washington had not become America's first president, he would have still gone down in history as a great general in a war for a great cause. But what made Washington such a towering figure as both a general as well as president wasn't only his strategic skill or courage or the admiration of soldiers and citizens, it was also his core humility, which coursed through so much of his storied success. I'll give you a couple of examples. 

His Excellency

First, there were some who wanted to call America's first president, His Excellency, which had monarchial overtones. Washington wouldn't have it and the decision was made to call him President. Washington had not led a revolution so that he could be put on a pedestal. He had led a revolution for freedom against the tyranny of England's King George III. He had also led a revolution to prove to the world that human beings were actually capable of self-government.

Return to Mount Vernon

Second, during Washington's groundbreaking presidency, there weren't laws or protocols at the time limiting terms of service. Ostensibly, Washington could have served as many terms as he wanted. But after two terms, the president decided to step down and return to Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia. When told by the American artist Benjamin West that Washington was going to resign, King George III of England reportedly said "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world. "(https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdstatehouse/html/gwresignation.html)

Third, I'll close with the following anecdote which is really the inspiration for this post as we honor George Washington on his birthday. It's taken from the following source (https://www.litmusbranding.com/blog/humility-business-quality/)

Commander in Chief

A rider once saw a few soldiers struggling to move away a heavy wooden log. There was this corporal who was just standing there and watching them. The fact that the corporal was not really helping the men irked the rider. He asked him why he was not helping the soldiers. The corporal said – I am the corporal. I give orders.

The rider didn’t reply. He dismounted his horse, went up to where the soldiers were and helped them lift the wood. With this help, the soldiers were able to complete the task successfully.

It was, of course, George Washington, then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Once General Washington mounted the horse, he approached the corporal and told him this: The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.

In our book, Win With Decency, we cite pastor Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose-Driven Life. He says that “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” It's this kind of humility that is the very essence of servant leadership that George Washington embodied and continues to inspire to this day. 

Written by

Douglass Hatcher


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