The first lesson George Washington might teach us is that it’s better to dodge a bullet than take one. As a military leader President Washington had several horses shot out from under him in several different battles. He understood that you can’t make things happen from the back of the battlefield. Serving leaders are willing to lead from the front and are willing to do the things they ask others to do. He understood leaders must step up and take responsibility for their results. Entrepreneurs understand that if it’s going to be done right that sometimes means they must do it.
The second lesson to learn from Washington is that he had extensive formal training in the military. He had a formal military training in the British army. He learned the more traditional ways of battle from generations of great military leaders from England. George Washington didn’t let his advanced education and experience limit his ability to recreate the rules of war. He developed strategies that would allow him to use his fledging army to confound the world’s most powerful military. Entrepreneurs must know how to create their own opportunities in the markets they work in. Going straight at your opposition is most likely to end in a loss for your team. As you organization continues to evolve so should your go-to-market strategies. Be agile when you competitors are larger and dominate smaller markets to increase your profits.
The third lesson to learn from Washington is to know when to strategically retreat and regroup. George Washington understood you can’t win every battle. Use what you learned to step back and develop a different strategy. He was the master of using the environment to change the way we fought and won. He was willing to take risks and seize opportunities when others didn’t see them. He crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve to surprise and defeat his enemies. Successful entrepreneurs must know how to seize new markets when they appear. You must create as many opportunities as you find. Leaving old markets to enter new ones is critical to your organization’s success and growth.
The fourth lesson to learn from Washington is to know what you are good at. President Washington was a man who was very comfortable with who he was and what he wasn’t. He invested his lifetime knowing what he did best and then delegated to others around him to support his efforts. He spent significant time knowing what he needed to create success both here and overseas. He then found the most capable men and women to support his dreams. Purpose driven entrepreneurs know what they do best. They then find others with complementary skills to do the things they don’t do well.
The final lesson to learn from President George Washington was to know when to leave. Succession is a hot topic today for many business founders. Knowing when and how to bring in the right people is critical to a sustainable organization. If any President was ever given an opportunity to be made King, it was George Washington. He chose to leave office because he understood that our country, and ultimately, our form of government could not be built on the back on an individual, no matter who they might be. In a truly courageous act, he helped create a Constitution and a culture that would far exceed his life and impact. Many great entrepreneurs have failed to create the culture and structure to live beyond their vision of the business. Entrepreneurs must be willing to plan for the unplanned and develop an organization that transcends the individual founding team and develop succession plans for key people within the organization. Then even the best leaders must be willing to step down and create future leaders in the process.
Most of us are very familiar with the stories about Washington; the infamous cherry tree, the silver dollar across the Potomac, the winter in Valley Forge. Looking past the school stories you’ll find we have much more to learn from the Father of our country.