Management Matters with Mike Myatt: Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

It’s not uncommon in today’s world to wonder “where have all the leaders gone?” When you want to find great examples of solid leadership, you need only look back to our nation’s founders. Since we’re headed into Presidents Day weekend and the commencement of Lincoln’s bicentennial celebration, I thought I’d

It’s not uncommon in today’s world to wonder “where have all the leaders gone?” When you want to find great examples of solid leadership, you need only look back to our nation’s founders. Since we’re headed into Presidents Day weekend and the commencement of Lincoln’s bicentennial celebration, I thought I’d take this opportunity to author a two part series in which I’ll examine the leadership characteristics of the two presidents for which the holiday is celebrated; George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. In this week’s column I’ll begin by taking a brief look at the life of George Washington in an attempt to quickly offer some leadership tips that you can apply to your role as a C-level executive.

First, a bit of history.

In the minds of many, Presidents Day is the holiday when we celebrate all men who have held the office of the President of the United States. However, it was originally established in remembrance of George Washington’s birthday, and according to the Office of Personnel Management the holiday is still officially referred to as Washington’s Birthday. It wasn’t until 1865, one year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, that Lincoln’s Birthday was first officially celebrated. As it turns out, celebrating two Presidential birthdays in one month (Lincoln’s on the 12th and Washington’s on the 22nd) was just too much for law makers to endure. So in 1968 legislation was enacted to celebrate Presidents Day on the third Monday in February to both simplify the calendar and create a consistent three-day weekend for federal workers.

Born in Westmoreland County, Va., on Feb. 22, 1732, George Washington was a surveyor by trade, joined the Virginia militia just prior to the French and Indian War, served as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress, was commander in chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and was the first President of the United States (1789-97). His rise to success was nothing short of meteoric, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel by the age of 22, and his transformation from an arrogant and often brash young man to a polished and savvy leader was also quite remarkable.

Even though Washington was both personally and professionally polished, becoming well known for his economic, military, business and social success, it was his character that he was most admired for. The arrogance of his youth had been transformed into a true and unwavering confidence in his own judgment, underpinned with an implacable foundation of principled moral conviction. George Washington was a man of integrity beyond reproach, which made him a man worthy of respect and a force to be reckoned with. It is important to realize that he did not just espouse a vision, but that he was willing to put his life at risk to defend his vision, and live his life with the singular pursuit of seeing his vision become a reality.

Washington’s life gives testimony to the fact that great leaders can accomplish great things. It is important to remember that Washington was not merely a man among midgets who garnered his success because of the ineptness of his contemporaries, rather he was someone who rose to the top of a peer group comprised of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and John Hancock, among others.

The lessons here are simple: be a person of action, stay passionately convicted to your vision, make sure that your motivations and decisions are based upon a deeply rooted sense of character and integrity in both your personal and professional conduct, and be willing to take great risks in order to insure that your vision becomes a reality. While this brief post cannot even come close to doing justice to incredible life of George Washington, and the leadership qualities he possessed, I do hope it provides some inspiration and some guidance as you move foreword on your own leadership journey.

Tomorrow we’ll take a brief look at the life of Abraham Lincoln in the conclusion of this two part series…