What causes people to gain a following? What can we learn from leaders of the past to give us the tools necessary to gain a following for ourselves?
guru Orrin Woodward talks about the reformation of a young George Washington into the man who would be capable of leading the American Revolutionary Army and later becoming the First President of the United States.
By nature, young Washington had a fiery temper, but he developed an iron-willed discipline in order to check its excesses. Richard Norton Smith, in his book, Patriarch, said, “The adolescent Washington examined Seneca’s dialogues and laboriously copied from a London magazine one hundred and ten ‘rules of civility’ intended to buff a rude country boy into at least the first draft of a gentleman”. The French Jesuits had originally developed the 110 Rules as principles to live by, and
Washington’s methodical writing process helped him to adopt many of these maxims as his personal resolutions for life. As Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father, wrote, “His manner and his morals kept his temperament under control. His commitment to ideas gave him guidance. Washington’s relation to ideas has been underestimated by almost everyone who wrote of him or knew him, and modern education has encouraged this neglect. . . His attention to courtesy and correct behavior
anticipated his political philosophy. He was influenced by Roman notions of nobility, but he was even more deeply influenced by a list of table manners and rules for conversation by Jesuits.” Character and self-mastery were his goals through living his guiding ideals of fortitude, justice, moderation, and the dignity of every human being.
It was through the things young Washington chose to learn he acquired the necessary character and commitment to duty that would serve him so well leading the Revolutionary forces to victory. In Valley Forge, his commitment to what he had learned and put
into practice kept Washington in the painful field with his men, instead of accepting offers of comfort and safety. Valley Forge, and what they all went through together,
forged the American forces into an army, with their beloved Washington at its head. Prior to that winter, they followed him because of his title. After, it was because they knew he was someone worth following.
True leaders are people of character who get into the trenches with their followers. People just won’t willingly follow someone who hasn’t shown he or she has “been there and done that,” too. As Orrin points out, George Washington showed us with his courage, convictions and commitment to duty how to be that kind of leader ourselves. May all who seek to lead do as well.