Saturday, July 19, 2008

Think about posterity.

Another motivating factor for Washington was a concern for posterity. He knew that he was making history, and he wanted to do it right. Some critics may accuse him of being too concerned with how future generations would view him, but considering how he was blazing new leadership territory in a likewise new nation, I think his concerns were legitimate.

In his farewell address, Washington not only states that he will not seek another term as president, but he offers advice to the nation that he believes is crucial to its success. Note the emphasis on the success of the nation rather than his personal success. He could easily have written a farewell address that was entirely self-laudatory, but that was not his focus.

IDEA LEADER: When you think about your organization and its future, are you more concerned about your personal reputation or the success of your organization? How can you appropriately concern yourself with both?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nelson Mandela's Leadership Principles

I plan to start posting links to helpful articles as well as my semi-weekly idea leaders. Click here to read 8 leadership principles from Nelson Mandela. Though they are not servant-leader specific, they are still valuable principles that will help servant-leaders.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Old Ideas Matter

Washington's approach to executive power may have seemed novel in his day (King George III was quoted as saying that if Washington could voluntarily resign his power, "he would be the greatest man in the world."). However, his refusal of a tyrant's crown had historical referents. Both of these referents originate in the Roman world.

Washington's favorite play was Addison's Cato . He even had it performed during that terrible winter at Valley Forge. In the play, Cato is an embodiment of republican virtue, and an enemy of the tyrant Julius Caesar. Cato is willing to resist Caesar's despotic rule - even if it means taking his own life.

During Washington's lifetime, he was compared to Cincinnatus. According to the historian Livy, Cincinnatus was twice given the power of a despot in order to save Rome from her military enemies. Twice Cincinnatus was able to repel the foreign threat and then willingly return to his plow. Like Washington, he served his country in its time of need and then resigned from executive power.

Since I teach at a classical school, I have high regard for the classical tradition, and I am thrilled to see the connection with Washington. Yet there is something here for leaders to glean: leaders benefit from historic role models. Don't become so consumed with being "cutting edge" that you forget what is "classical."

IDEA LEADER: Which historical heroes influence you? Why? How can you share their stories with those you lead?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sometimes Quitters Do Win

Why would a popular and successful executive willingly resign his position when everyone expected him to keep his power? Why do it twice? We'll explore this question for the next several weeks.

George Washington twice resigned his executive power: first when he resigned his position as commander and chief of the continental army and second when he chose not to seek a third term as President (he still got 2 electoral votes in the 1796 election).

Shortly before Washington resigned his military command, a group of soldiers wanted to march on congress in response to unresolved grievances. After quelling that near-rebellion, he rode to the continental congress, meeting in Maryland, to surrender his sword. He was met by huge cheering crowds in three different cities - in a scene not unlike the triumph processions of Roman military generals.

Washington could easily have become a military dictator. The English revolution that preceded him by less than 200 years ended with such. Why didn't Washington follow that path?

There are a variety of reasons. One of those was his ability to pick up and lay down executive power at will. Even more impressive, he could lay down this power and not be diminished in any way. In fact, his decision to resign his military command made him even more heroic. I believe in this act Washington demonstrated something of the character that Christ discussed when he said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."

IDEA LEADER: Not only were Washington's executive positions full of authoritative power, but they were also symbols of status. What status symbols could you give up to enhance your leadership? How would your organization benefit if you shared power with others?