George Washington led our country well over 220 years ago. How would he deal with the many challenges facing serving leaders today? What can we serving entrepreneurs learn from this revolutionary leader? Could his revolutionary leadership strategies still help entrepreneurs today?
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 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 allowed him to use his fledging army to confound the world’s most powerful military.
Entrepreneurs must use what they know about their markets 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 your 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 when to regroup 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 long term success and growth. New opportunities can help create better customer experiences.
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 leaders 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, develop an organization that transcends the initial founding team, and create succession plans for people across the organization. Then even the best leaders must be willing to step down to create future leaders in the process. Most of us are very familiar with the stories about George 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.
If you want to learn more about the historic George Washington, you might enjoy Ron Chernow’s article about Washington’s first inauguration in Smithsonian Magazine George Washington: The Reluctant President
I’ll be traveling for the next several days, so you won’t see another new posting until next Tuesday. I can’t wait to share what I’m working on with you! See you then.