George Washington: The Right Leader at the Right Time
“Good moral character is the first essential in a man.” George Washington wrote in a letter to his nephew in 17901, during his second year serving as the first President of the United States. Not only is it an excellent lesson to teach a young boy, but it was also an integral part of Washington’s personality that would permeate his life and actions. Most know him simply as one of the founding fathers of our nation, a great leader during wartime, and our first and perhaps greatest President. But he was a complex man that fought through self-doubt, immense stress, and longing for his family, much like any normal man would. He was indeed human after all, a point that can sometimes be forgotten when talking about our country’s heroes. But what was it about Washington that, in the eyes of his contemporaries, made him extraordinarily capable of serving as Commander In Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War? I’d like to propose that it was a combination of factors that led to his unanimous election to the position of General by the Continental Congress in 1775: his character, charisma, and his belief in the concept of America. First, please allow me to first define what a good leader is. The definition is typically different for everyone. I think that Richard C. Stazesky explains it quite well: “In brief, the visionary leader has a vision into the far future, can develop an effective organization and can attract others to strive also for the attainment of his/her vision so that it becomes a shared vision and they all work together in an organization that sustains the vision, its beliefs and its values.”2
Lucas, The Quotable George Washington, 12.
Stazesky, Richard C., “George Washington, Genius in Leadership.”
However, certain comments from Washington himself make it appear that he did not see himself as fit for the leadership position he was being asked to fill. He had stated multiple times that he didn’t see himself fit for the position of General. He said that the position was “too boundless for my abilities and far, very far beyond my experience.”3 Further, upon being advised of his appointment on the floor of the Continental Congress, he stated, “I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust: However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation. But, lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by every Gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.”4 These comments suggest that Washington truly believed he was unqualified, which would seem to bolster the idea that he was a humble man, that did not boast or brag his way to success and notoriety. Granted, Washington did have military experience, but it was gained by commanding much smaller forces on the frontier during the French and Indian War, as opposed to a force of around 14,000-16,000 troops that made up the Continental Army around this time.5
I also believe that Washington’s overall character garnered him support amongst his peers. Washington’s father died when he was young, a fact which prevented him
Flexner, James Thomas, George Washington in the American Revolution 1775-1783, p. 13. Library of Congress. “Washington Accepts His Appointment as Commander of Continental Army, June 16, 1775“ http://tinyurl.com/bgud7kc
5 Wikipedia. “Continental Army” Last modified October 24, 2012. http://tinyurl.com/3wojf3 4
from travelling to England to receive his full education. However, he was brought up in...