Super Cities №60–7 Leadership Lessons from George Washington

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

In 1796, George Washington gave a farewell address


From Pennsylvania Avenue to Wall Street, our society — prosperous and improving — has an acute leadership deficit.

And to be clear: I’m not talking about millennials, the easy scapegoat. I’m talking about their parents.

In our twisted time, leaders reward short-term productivity but not long-term principle. Leaders encourage individualism and discourage meaningful collaboration. Leaders chicken-scratch 140 characters and prefer Cramer to Cicero.

As a guide for timeless wisdom, these leaders should read history. George Washington, through principles enunciated in his farewell address, is an excellent place to start:

Leaders must know when to stay, and when to go

"I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those, out of whom a choice is to be made…and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my Situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness; but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both."

Leaders must choose between unity and division

"With slight shades of difference, you have the same Religeon, Manners, Habits & political Principles. You have in a common cause fought & triumphed together — The independence & liberty you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts — of common dangers, sufferings and successes. But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your Interest."

Leaders must focus on mission and purpose

"To the efficacy and permanency of Your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable … Respect for its authority, compliance with its Laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty"

Leaders must avoid “love of power”

"A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position."

Leaders must prioritize justice and avoid favoritism

"Cultivate peace & harmony with all — Religion & morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a People always guided by an exalted justice & benevolence."

Leaders must avoid scoundrels

"Guard against the Impostures of pretended patriotism — this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated."

Leaders must elevate the whole

"My feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country, for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the stedfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful & persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise."

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