On Leadership

Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.                                     Proverbs 20:28 (The Message)

On March 15, 1783, Washington delivered his Newburgh Address to the senior officers of the Continental Army. The speech contained important themes that would later reemerge in the Washington presidency – national duty, the submission of military to civil authority, and the importance of dispassionate and good faith debate. He reminded them of their duty to the American Republic and of his own personal sacrifices for the nation. “A grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me—a recollection of the cheerful assistance, prompt obedience I have experienced from you, … and the sincere affection I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare… the great duty I owe my Country, and those powers we are bound to respect.”

At the end of his speech, Washington reached into his pocket and put on a pair of spectacles to read a letter from Congress. “Gentlemen,” he said softly, “You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

According to later accounts, many of the soldiers who heard the speech were moved to tears. As one veteran of the war recalled, “I have ever considered that the United States are indebted for their republican form of government solely to the firm and determined republicanism of George Washington at this time.”

Compliments of National Constitution Center (constitutioncenter.org)

I often use George Washington as a model for leadership when I teach on the subject. He was an imperfect man, as are we all, but his wisdom and foresight paved the way for a fledging country to be born. The excerpt above indicates his sense of duty. In fact, when he delivered this speech to his old soldiers who had fought and bled with him during the Revolution, the future of this new Republic was far from certain. These same men who Washington addressed were angry (they had not been paid for months, some even years), and they were armed! They were in no mood to submit themselves to a civil authority which had not treated them well.

Yet Washington was a visionary and he was a strong and courageous leader. He implored those men to have faith and patience in a dream that they could not yet see. He had the vulnerability to let them see the frailty he had as a result of his service to his country. He had the courage to face them, and shame them into not acting in their own self-interest, but in the interest of a larger goal- a new country.

Leadership is about acting in the interest of a cause larger than ourselves.

I yearn for that type of leadership today.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us many gifts, but they will fail if we do not use them in the service of others, Amen

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