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?

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