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Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in Business, Culture, Engagement, Featured, Leadership, Transparency | 17 comments

An Overlooked Lesson from America’s Greatest Leader

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“I thought then as now I had never beheld so superb a man.Marquis de Lafayette

What could you, a Social Age business leader, possibly learn from a man who died more than 200 years ago, before the Industrial Age was even underway?

Only the most important lesson in leadership, that’s all.

We’ve all studied (or lived through studying) the key battles of the American Revolutionary War. The surprise British debacle of Concord and Lexington. The fierce battle of Bunker Hill, with the heroic command for the rebels, almost out of ammunition, not to fire until they saw the whites of their enemies’ eyes. The morale-boost and strategic imperative of Saratoga. Washington’s Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware that precipitated surprise victories at Trenton and then Princeton. And of course our ultimate victory at Yorktown.

But there’s one battle we don’t spend much time on in history class, the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse. As battles go, it was pretty inconclusive: the U.S. suffered fewer casualties and kept the field, but we didn’t exactly defeat the British, who (one might argue) didn’t want the field in the first place – they were on their way to New York City, and we failed to stop them.

So… why am I using this ho-hum event to showcase George Washington’s finest trait as a leader of men – and to illustrate the most important word in leadership? Because it was at Monmouth that Washington showed his men exactly what he thought of them, thus inspiring them to rise above what they themselves thought possible.

Washington showed his men exactly what he thought of them, thus inspiring them to rise above what they themselves thought possible.

To Set the Stage

That winter, Washington’s Continental Army had endured one of the worst winters in North American history at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Disgracefully underfunded by the 13 (then-sovereign) states of the confederation, American patriots – universally undernourished, most without adequate coats or winter uniforms, some even barefoot – drilled day after day under the expert tutelage of Baron von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette. Severe though it was, it was in Valley Forge that Washington’s army was transformed from armed but undisciplined yokels into a world-class military force capable of holding its own against the world’s most powerful, feared army.

But would they? When the time came, would this army stand and fight, or would its soldiers throw down their arms and flee for their lives in a rout?

Early signs were bad. Washington sent half of his army, 5,000 soldiers, ahead to engage the British. General Charles Lee so botched command of his force that the army was left directionless and disintegrated. Washington approached the battle and was astonished to find units of Lee’s force in full retreat; the trickle quickly became a torrent, as more and more American soldiers fled the scene.

When the time came, would this army stand and fight, or would its soldiers throw down their arms and flee for their lives in a rout?

Washington Turns the Tide

Washington’s army, America’s main fighting force, stood on the verge of destruction. He and many of America’s senior military leadership could have suffered capture, which would have surely ended in their hanging by the British for treason. The Revolution itself might never have recovered; indeed, a complete defeat at Monmouth could have shattered American resolve altogether, and inspired the French to withdraw their still-tentative support. The British stood to win not only a battle, but possibly the whole war. It all depended on the leadership of one man.

Washington may have considered all of that, of course, but it was not foremost in his mind. He was after his first large-scale, toe-to-toe battlefield victory against the British Army.

Washington was incensed. Famous for his stoic calm, his anger that day became the thing of legend among his men, as he berated Lee. Then, without a second’s hesitation, Washington spurred his horse forward, toward the front lines.

George Washington did not consider for a moment that his demoralized troops might fail to rally to his side. He trusted them to follow. And in demonstrating his trust in his soldiers, Washington exemplified the most important trait of a leader.

Not that he was trusted – that was for his men to show him, or not, as they felt right.

Not that he was trustworthy – that is not for a leader to decide, either.

At Monmouth, Washington showed his men that he was completely, unconditionally trusting. He believed in them. He knew in his heart that he had selected the right followers, that he trained them well, and that they would do what was right, what the situation required.

Washington showed his men that he was completely, unconditionally trusting.

George Washington proved in that day at Monmouth Courthouse that he was the leader his army, indeed his own nation, needed him to be. A leader worth following. A leader who trusts, and in so doing, deserves to be trusted.

Two Centuries Later

And that is what America’s Greatest Leader can teach all leaders, even we Social Age business leaders. We don’t have the fate of nations on the line, not even of lives. But if we are going to aspire to greatness, even in a humble field like business, we, too, must learn to trust.

Only then will we be worthy of the trust of others. Only then can we hope to gain that trust that, perhaps, we deserve.

Lead through trust: not the trust you hope to get from others. Lead through the trust you have in others.

That is the mark of a truly worthy leader.

Please, join me here at Switch and Shift next week for part three of my three-part series on Trust.

Lead through trust: not the trust you hope to get from others. Lead through the trust you have in others.

 

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Copyright: markskalny / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Ted Coiné

Ted Coiné

Keynote speaker. Author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. Three-time CEO. Chairman and Founder of Switch and Shift. Ted Coiné is one of the most influential business experts on the Web, top-ranked by Forbes, Inc., SAP Business Innovation, and Huffington Post for his leadership, customer experience, and social media influence. Ted consults with owners, CEOs and boards of directors on making their companies more competitive by making them more human-focused. He and his family live in Naples, Florida.

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  • Dr. Ellen Weber

    Superb analogy and thanks Ted! You did it again:-) What a thought provoker and it’s interesting that trust is found in surveys to be the quality most crave at work, and also the quality that few claim they find there. So it’s vital – as you modeled it here.

    How can I not challenge you here though, Ted:-)? On the other side of combat:-)

    Imagine the trust it would take to start a revolutionary movement committed to robust peace plans that move our nation forward beyond conflicts through innovative alliances? What would leading a genuine peace brigade look like and how would trust sustain us there?

    Love the thought of generating trust that wins us all more – as your ideas stir:-) Thanks and Happy July 4th! Ellen

    • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

      Treat all comments with dignity and respect … that creates trust….

      No matter how famous we are, each person is important!

      May I thank you for your comment, Dr.Ellen Weber?

      • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

        Karin,

        I agree here, too. Unfortunately, there are times when I miss comments on my posts, as I miss mentions in various social streams. I always feel bad about that. I hope you and others don’t take my inattention for arrogance. That is the trait I can least stand in anyone.

        BTW while I have you: I really enjoy your participation here on S&S. I’m glad you’ve made this community of purpose we’ve created together your home on the Web. And I can’t WAIT to read your upcoming book on Trust!

        • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

          Thank you Ted … I like people who are honest …
          I am always honest, too :-)
          I take this as a warm welcome, Ted -)

        • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

          Thank you Ted … I like people who are honest …
          I am always honest, too :-)
          I take this as a warm welcome, Ted -)

        • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

          Thank you Ted … I like people who are honest …
          I am always honest, too :-)
          I take this as a warm welcome, Ted -)

        • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

          Thank you Ted … I like people who are honest …
          I am always honest, too :-)
          I take this as a warm welcome, Ted -)

        • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

          Thank you Ted … I like people who are honest …
          I am always honest, too :-)
          I take this as a warm welcome, Ted -)

          • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

            As it was meant! :)

          • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

            As it was meant! :)

          • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

            As it was meant! :)

    • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

      I love it, Ellen! I learn the most from my challenges, and yours is so gracious, who would mind it? I truly believe that the ties of international commerce are a big factor in bringing us into a more peaceful era (social connection across national borders being another). Whereas it used to be one nation’s trade interests versus another’s in a zero-sum, win/lose, “us versus them” world, ever more it’s becoming an “us and us” world. For nations with developed or healthily-developing economies, conflict is too expensive for all concerned.

      …Which is a world I’m excited to be living in!

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  • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

    Trusting, completely, is what we should learn ..

    Lead through the trust you have in others … I like these words, Ted :-)

    We do not earn trust, we give trust to others.
    Why?
    Because we have a special human dignity and with our trust we concede others this dignity, too.
    Trust begins with tolerance and acceptance of others as human beings.
    Only with this background we are able to give genuine trust.

    Best regards
    Karin

  • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

    Trusting, completely, is what we should learn ..

    Lead through the trust you have in others … I like these words, Ted :-)

    We do not earn trust, we give trust to others.
    Why?
    Because we have a special human dignity and with our trust we concede others this dignity, too.
    Trust begins with tolerance and acceptance of others as human beings.
    Only with this background we are able to give genuine trust.

    Best regards
    Karin

    • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

      Karin, this is a symphony to my ears. I so wholeheartedly agree! When we see each other as all fundamentally deserving in basic respect as human beings, we can’t help but treat each other with trust. At least, until that trust is broken, which sadly is sometimes the case.

    • http://switchandshift.com Ted Coine

      Karin, this is a symphony to my ears. I so wholeheartedly agree! When we see each other as all fundamentally deserving in basic respect as human beings, we can’t help but treat each other with trust. At least, until that trust is broken, which sadly is sometimes the case.

      • Karin Sebelin ♥‿♥

        Thank you Ted…
        I always see the human being ..