Washington: What Makes a Good Leader?

Despite his reputation as perhaps the best founding father throughout all of history, George Washington was all but imperfect, which would prove to become his greatest strength.

Born to a wealthy family of farmers, George Washington could have lazily exercised a lavish lifestyle, inheriting his parents’ tobacco farm. However, the young Virginian had an insatiable thirst for leadership and work ethic. Washington drew strength from his aspirations, desiring to rise through the ranks of the British Army.

Serving in the French and Indian War yielded mixed results for Washington. In a failed expedition alongside General Edward Braddock, the British attempted to force the French from modern-day Ohio. In a turn of events, the troops were ambushed by the French, resulting in 900 casualties, including General Braddock. Washington faced another disaster in a friendly fire incident between two of his units, resulting in 14 dead soldiers and 26 wounded. Washington was unable to climb the ranks of the British army throughout the scope of the French and Indian War. Yet, Washington’s failures reminded him of humanity’s most mortal flaw: imperfection. His blunders became lessons, and his imperfection became gospel, granting him the invaluable insight, experience, and wisdom of an incredible leader.

In 1776, a Francophile by the name of Thomas Jefferson drafted a document that listed the colonies’ grievances against the British hosts as well as their desire to be free that was entitled the Declaration of Independence. Requiring seasoned military commanders, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington, the ex-British tactician, as the General of the Continental Army.

The Continental Army fought an uphill battle throughout the Revolutionary War, finally gaining traction via the Battle of Saratoga. Against all odds, Washington commanded his army to victory, defeating the British at the Battle of Yorktown, securing the freedom of the colonies. However, an equal battle would prove a worthy adversary to the weary colonists: creating the United States of America.

Although victorious in battle and both independent and excited, the colonists were stumped after the Revolutionary War. They were free from the tyranny of King George III, but what came next? George Washington and several other founding fathers took the lead in forming the structure and legislature of the new nation, eventually creating the Constitution. The Congress of the United States wholly decided that Washington was fit to become the first President, a role that was all but undefined. In his time as president, Washington kept the nation united, defended the idea of neutrality to avoid the fragile nation falling apart to foreign conflicts, fought against a two-party system, and ultimately set the precedent of a two-term presidency.

King George III was recorded to have said that Washington would be the “greatest man in the world” when the topic of Washington’s resignation of the presidency was brought up. Washington had the nation within the grasp of his hands, and although he could have easily remained President and used his power to wrest entire control of the colonies, the battered Virginian elected to resign to Mount Vernon, much to the sadness of his colleagues as well as the general public.

During his farewell address, Washington showcased the core of leadership through a simple action: putting on his glasses to read his address. Facing the public and veterans that Washington fought and created a nation alongside, he was all but revered as a legendary titan of rebellion and military excellence. By putting on his glasses, Washington displayed one last imperfection, resulting in many veterans crying. By showing weakness and humanity throughout his entire life and career, Washington was able to resonate with the people of his army and nation, becoming a seasoned commander through his wisdom gained through the harsh lessons of failure. Washington was unafraid to fail, unafraid to embrace his imperfection, and ultimately, unafraid to lead through his impeccable tenacity and well-founded experience.











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