I recently read The Two Contagious Behaviors of a Great Boss in the Wall Street Journal, and the 241-year-old qualities historically noted about George Washington still have great relevance to leadership today.
Washington taught us that it’s important to lead by example, with evenness and an unrelenting will to win – while also having great command of one’s own emotional self. He taught us the importance of balance and fortitude. It’s not an easy chord to hit, but those who are and have been able to have the results to show for it – and they have exceptional teams because of it.
That’s because a leader’s behavior is contagious. Being too laid-back, too serious or too anything will directly impact those around you – but especially those working for you. They say that George Washington’s ability to lead by example directly stemmed from his courage, tenacity and ‘outsized effort’ – he was relentless. But, he also had an extreme command over himself and his emotions. The article referenced what Washington himself wrote about a person’s ‘flammable passions’ and how they “ought to be under the guidance of reason.”
Today we call this emotional intelligence. It’s when great leaders, like Washington, are able to carefully measure a situation to determine how to respond to it. They are not controlled by what happens around them – instead, their ability to command their reaction and the efforts of their team is what leads them to victory. It’s commendable and something I’m always personally trying to master.
The Leadership Lessons to be Great
Great leaders never rest. They know there is always more to do and to make better – especially about themselves.
George Washington is the classic example of a superior leader, and there’s a lot to learn from him. But, every leader is different – they’re leading different teams and times are different, too. Know that you’re not going to be faced with the same Delaware crossing or ride into battle on horseback, but that there are values, characteristics and lessons to take from those who did.
Leadership role models can be found throughout history, and undoubtedly George Washington is one of the pillar examples. Here’s what I’ve learned from them:
The Power of Positivity
I admit, I am one to self-deprecate. So, I try to remind myself and the people around me that life is short, we all make mistakes – and, we’re human. Washington had many gifts, but he also had a long list of defeats. It’s important to keep perspective, and sometimes the only thing you can control is your reaction. Your outlook and approach will be directly reflected by your team. In fact, they’re a great mirror into your leadership capabilities that way. Understand that your words, actions and reactions carry weight and that they impact how the team feels – but also how they’ll, too, respond. No matter what, control yourself by keeping a level head and by staying positive.
I like to ask myself: In 200 years, will the situation you’re facing go down in history? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But if it does, how will people regard you? Will they take note of your demeanor, tact, execution and leadership? If you don’t feel confident in your answer, adjust.
Provide Reality – And Perspective
Mistakes happen. Failures happen. Taking accountability for those mistakes and failures matters.
The reality of a situation can seem dismal, but it’s important to face those realities head on. Look at things as they are, adapt what you need to in order to move on and be successful in the future, and, of course, stay positive. People will trust you and follow you as a leader if you are real. Unbiased guidance and leadership is key, and it’s also hard to find. Provide the perspective the team needs, create a new plan (if one is needed) and move forward.
Realities won’t change unless your approach to them does.
Every Situation Can Get Better with Empathy
LABUR is in contact with so many different people of so many different walks of life. Knowing the people you work with and around, and having a mutual understanding and appreciation for each other, is important. Not only will this understanding lead to a healthier more respectful workplace but it’s good business, too.
A good leader understands their team’s strengths and weaknesses. I try to be understanding of the personal and professional difficulties my team faces and realize how these difficulties might impact their work. Not everyone is at peak performance every day, and having a little empathy goes a long way.
History portrays the image of ideal leaders during profound times doing unbelievable things. But don’t forget about the small day-to-day moments that led to those great victories. Start first by doing what’s right and rallying your team behind the mission. Be transparent, empathetic and fearless. Lead by example, and never let the situation – no matter the circumstances – prevent you from providing perspective and positivity to your people.
Leadership is not easy. In fact, it takes a great deal of dedication and continuous hard work to get right. Keep going.