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4 Executive Leadership Lessons from George Washington

by Mary Ann Gontin

In our quest to improve how we lead and manage people, it is normal to look at how other successful executive leaders accomplished what they did. Having just honored and remembered George Washington, the first president of the United States, it seems fitting to look at some of his key leadership lessons. Based on my work in executive leadership development and executive coaching consulting, here are the lessons IExecutive Leadership Lessons from George Washington see:

1. Don’t lie. While most of us won’t be faced with the cover-up of chopping down a cherry tree, there is a powerful message in this childhood story we all learned. Effective leaders don’t lie to their people. That doesn’t mean that they reveal confidential information. What it does mean is that they build trust with their people, provide them appropriate information when possible and refrain from telling blatant lies. People understand that some information must be kept confidential. But people don’t accept or forgive liars easily.


2. Be mindful of who you put in the boat. When Washington crossed the Delaware River, it was critical that he have the right people with him. As leaders, we need to do honest assessments of our strengths and weaknesses and ensure that we surround ourselves with the skills, talents and commitment needed to accomplish our goals.


3. Focus on winning the war, not all the battles. It’s a fact that Washington lost more battles than he won, but his strategic view, his ability to rally the troops and influence the other leaders of the American Revolution, still makes him one of our greatest executive leaders.


4. Continue to grow and learn. Part of what contributed to Washington’s effectiveness as a leader was his diversity of interests.  Although deprived of a college education due to lack of family finances, he became trained as a surveyor. This taught him the importance of land and location. He spent his life in self-education. Described by Thomas Jefferson as “the foremost farmer in America,” he was a pioneer in many aspects of farming. As a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses, he studied, listened and learned about key elements in establishing a government. When appointed as Commander of the Continental Army, he used his training in the British army as a foundation but surrounded himself with people of different military experiences to expand his knowledge.

George Washington was not a perfect leader – I’m still on the hunt for who that is!  However, many of his approaches and actions are at the core of what good executive leaders should be embracing in the twenty-first century.

Please share your observations and thoughts of what you see as key leadership traits.

Need help with executive leadership development or executive coaching programs? We can help! 

Mary Ann Gontin is Managing Partner of OI Partners – Cunis & Gontin, Inc. in Connecticut. Her firm has been providing human resources consulting services since 1974. Mary Ann has become recognized by clients for her ability to identify organizational and individual performance issues and propose creative and practical solutions. She can be reached at mgontin@oipartners.net or 800-473-4507.

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Comments  4

  • Robert Wilson 28 Feb

    Great Post Mrs. Washington!    Clever and practical - just like you.

    Have a great weekend,

  • Ray 02 Mar

    Great article, Mary Ann.! I especially like the reference to George Washington since I admire him for his overall accomplishments including his natural leadership skills.  Like you indicated in your article George Washington, dispute his formal education, but with his self-taught skills became a surveyor and is known in history as one of the first individuals not only to survey the intermediate Virginia area but several areas surrounding Virginia all before he was 25 years old!
  • Robyn Crigger 04 Mar

    Mary Ann,

    You used an excellent example of leadership.  I can't imagine being the "first" president of the United States.  You definitely pointed out some great traits of leadership.  I always value your insight.

    Robyn Crigger

  • Mary Ann Gontin 06 Mar

    Thanks for the comments, Bob, Ray and Robyn.  Washington was a fascinating leader and person on so many levels.  Leadership stories are always interesting to me - there is no one perfect way to lead, but many examples for us to all study and think about.
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