Commander's Washington's Birthday Message
February 13, 2012
Although commonly called Presidents Day, the day we celebrate on the third Monday in February remains officially Washington's Birthday. Our first president is the only one we honor with a national holiday.
George Washington. We all know of him. We all know some things about him: military leader in our War for Independence, chairman of our Constitutional Convention and first president of the United States of America. But there are many more things we can learn from the research and analysis of historians who have seriously studied his life through writings and the writings of others concerning him.
One historian is Richard Brookhiser, who has written extensively on Washington and the time in which he lived. In his book "George Washington on Leadership," Brookhiser offers in 269 pages lessons on leadership gleaned from throughout Washington's life. One lesson can be found in "Bringing Out the Best," a small chapter that shows Washington believed in and practiced
encouragement when he commanded others.
During an age when commanders commonly ran down their subordinates in enforcing their orders, Washington chose to build up. While a contemporary military genius, Frederick the Great of Prussia, urged his soldiers on with the shout, "Dogs, do you want to live forever?" Washington frequently prefaced his commands with "My brave fellows." As Brookhiser notes, Washington appealed to his Soldiers' better selves, getting them to be brave by telling them they were.
The author cites a number of other examples, reflecting that "as men can fall down, make mistakes, screw up, choose wrong, they can also choose right.. Washington throws the burden of action on others, and tells them that they can and will pick it up.. "The man who was a master at holding people's attention and at acquiring power turns the attention back on his audience, to show them their power, and their responsibility," Brookhiser writes. "It is a mixture of praise and exhortation, and it happens again and again."
As a leader, Washington learned that he could do his best only if those he led performed their best. This lesson in encouragement is something we can all apply. Leaders at any level can expect their Soldiers to perform their tasks or accomplish their mission best when they possess a sense of responsibility for its outcome.
In today's Army, we have many tools at hand to encourage our Soldiers and civilians - promotions, awards, certificates or letters of appreciation, and coins, to name a few. Sometimes just a few words are what is needed. But it important not only to praise people at the right times but also to cultivate their sense of responsibility. So when we think of George Washington this coming weekend, let's think about the people who look to us for leadership and help bring out the best in them.