CASE 1—GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE

CASE 2—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT,PART I

CASE 3—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT, PART II

CASE 4—THE NORTHERN NECK

CASE 5—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART I

CASE 6—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART II

CASE 7—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART I

CASE 8—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART II

CASE 9—PLANTER, POLITICIAN, AND PATRIOT

CASE 10—THE MAN, PART I

CASE 11—THE MAN, PART II

CASE 12—THE MAN, PART III

CASE 13—THE MAN, PART IV

CASE 14—THE MAN, PART V

CASE 15—DEATH AND APOTHEOSIS

CASE 16—PRESERVING THE MEMORY

CLEMENTS LIBRARY

George Washington: getting to know the man behind the image.

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Case 10GEORGE WASHINGTON'S LEADERSHIP MANUAL,

OR GUIDE TO SUCCESS AND PERSONAL FULFILMENT (IF HE HAD WRITTEN ONE!)

When he was fifteen years old, George Washington wrote out a list of 109 "Rules of Civility" in a copybook. It was at least in part an exercise in penmanship, but biographers have always been intrigued by it. Manners and behavior were clearly important to him. Did this exercise make a lasting impression? Did it help to mold his character and personality? Originally thought to be of his own composition, it was discovered in the nineteenth century that the rules were copied from a printed guide to deportment published by Francis Hawkins in the seventeenth century.

Whether or not the Hawkins volume had a formative influence, there is no question but that George Washington lived his life and met its challenges within the framework of a set of personal principles. He had a strong sense of what is right, what is wrong, what works and what does not, and he lived by his rules most of the time. When he strayed from his basic instincts, he tended to regret it.

Washington was too modest and too private to play the role of a Chesterfield, preaching to others his own rules of conduct. But from the corpus of his massive correspondence, and from his actions, it is not difficult to reconstruct his thinking on how to solve problems, how to deal with people, how to be a leader. He was so spectacularly effective in all these ways, that it is of some interest to attempt to identify them.

The following exhibit cases contains a sampling of Washington correspondence and first-hand narratives of contact with him that document, in various ways, his patterns of behavior and his leadership style. A Washington "Rules of Conduct" or "Leadership" manual, had he written one, would undoubtedly have included the precepts identified here in one form or another. There is nothing original about any of these ideas. They all can be found in the writings of ancient moralists and philosophers, the Bible or more recent guides to personal behavior. Like everyone else, he developed these instincts and beliefs through a combination of genetic inheritance, upbringing, observation, education, and experience. Some of the formative influences have been touched upon earlier in this exhibit. Washington lived by these precepts, and they worked well, in his personal life, his military career, and his Presidency:

1. Primary Objective. Understand exactly what the primary goal is that you are seeking to accomplish. Commit all your energies to it, however long it takes. Don't allow anyone or anything to distract you from the main purpose.

2. Integrity. Be absolutely honest with others and with yourself in both word and deed.

3. Information is Power. Do your homework. Work harder and be better prepared than anyone else. Solicit diverse opinions of the best informed people-they are no threat to you, but rather a shortcut to knowledge. Keep your eyes and your mind open to new information.

4. Circumspection. As a general rule, keep your own plans and opinions to yourself. Be very careful when you speak, so as not to offend others and not tip your hand until you are ready to act.

5. Importance of Small Things. Details are important. Etiquette and appearances matter-you are often judged by them rather than matters of greater substance. To effect major accomplishments, you need to know and pay attention to both the trees and the forest. Losing sight of either the big picture or the small details is courting disaster.

6. Caution and Boldness. Be capable of both patience and bold action. Weigh evidence carefully, with an open mind. Be deliberate in making decisions. Be honest with yourself-don't let your emotions or personal feelings get the better of your judgment. Don't let your pride get in the way of changing your mind. Ignore unfair criticism. Control your temper. But once the evidence is convincing, act quickly and decisively. Don't look back or waste time second-guessing decisions already made.

7. Respect for Others. Treat everyone with the same personal respect you would wish in return. Listen to others. Treat social inferiors and social superiors with equal courtesy. Be kind. Be generous with compliments of others, and give credit where it is due.

8. Use power cautiously and sparingly. The most powerful person is the one who does not have to use it to achieve success. More can be accomplished by asking for help and reasoning than ordering and telling people what to do. When people are consulted and asked to do something, and they agree, they have made a personal commitment to achieving success-they will follow you to the ends of the earth. Use the power you have for the public good, not to accomplish selfish aims. Guard your reputation jealously--do not allow yourself to be used by others.

9. Importance of Relaxation. Regularly take time to relax and get your mind entirely off business. Spend time doing or thinking about things (and people) you enjoy most. Take pleasure in small things, and always have pleasures to anticipate in the future. Unless you conserve your energy in this way, you cannot bring 100% to the job and you will not have the endurance to see a job to the end.

One of the most pressing challenges Washington faced, on assuming command in June 1775, was securing recognition of the American army as a legitimate enemy, rather than a group of traitors or "rebels." The stiff resistance American forces gave at Bunker Hill helped, but it also increased the number of American combatants in British hands.

Washington was informed that American soldiers captured by the British were being treated like common criminals. The issue of the treatment of prisoners provided an excellent pretext for forcing the hand of General Gage

General Thomas Gage
 
In these two letters, the American commander protests this action and informs the British commander that he, hereafter, would make sure that British officers would be provided the same treatment that Gage provided Americans. The threat worked, and Washington was given the respect traditionally accorded an opposing commander.
Washington-Gage, August 11, 1775
Washington-Gage, August 19, 1775

These particular letters were written, not only for General Gage's eyes, but for public consumption as well. They claimed the moral high ground in the conflict between Britain and the colonies, portraying the former as tyrants, the latter as simply freedom loving Englishmen protecting their homes and families. It was propaganda, but very effective. The Americans published these letters in newspapers, magazines, and broadsides throughout the colonies. They were picked up in the British press as well, and from very early in the war, Washington established a high degree of respect as a man of honor, even among his opponents. The letters provided the Americans a "public relations" coup at the very outset of the war.

Because he cultivated the persona of being above the fray of politics, it is easy to underestimate Washington as a politician. In reality, he was highly sensitive to public opinion, understanding that in a democracy, the ultimate power rested with the people. He understood that the nation's acceptance in the world community would depend upon creating a positive and honorable image for the American cause.

 

George Washington was a very self-controlled person most of the time. He was almost always careful about what he said and what he did. Inherent in the whole concept of self-control is the idea that there is something to control, some instinctive or natural tendency, and in Washington's case is seems to have been his temper.

On a few notable occasions he lost control and displayed real anger. Whether it was angry words or a withering stare, Washington's displeasure was unforgettable and not something anyone desired to experience twice. He was a physically powerful presence. He was never someone to trifle with.

1780 was a discouraging period for the American cause. Charleston had fallen, and the British army had taken control of most of the Carolinas. A group of Connecticut troops had briefly mutinied, and Benedict Arnold defected to the British. Inflation was rampant, and Washington was having serious problems supplying his dwindling army with bare necessities. He had to dismiss troops needed for any offensive operation because he could neither house nor feed them. The British were in their fifth year of effective and comfortable occupation New York City, while Washington's army was barely able to sustain itself at New Windsor, up the Hudson.

At the end of November 1780 Gouverneur Morris wrote to the commander, suggesting a plan to attack British forces in New York. Washington's response, although personally respectful, almost sizzles with anger and frustration. Writing to a friend was undoubtedly a way he let off steam, but the letter also documents the powerful determination that was part of Washington's personality. Adversity hardened, rather than weakened his resolve and his patience. He admits that he, himself, had hoped to undertake something dramatic before going into winter quarters. "My wishes had so far got the better of my judgment that I had actually made some pretty considerable advances in the prosecution of a plan for this purpose when alas! I found the means inadequate to the end..."

Washington-Morris, December 10, 1780