Let’s indulge, for a moment, on a seasonal exposition that preys on a national day of remembrance—not as a desperate attempt to capitalize on optimal web search methods spiked by the holiday; but rather as mildly hopeful attempt to cull out wisdom from the past, in hopes of gleaning some bit of meaning and truth for our present circumstances.
Yes, George Washington is the father of our county. Yes, he is the guy on the One Dollar Bill and a few of those silver tokens we used to slide into the arcade machine at 7-11 as a kid. Yes, he is one of the four presidents enshrined on Mt. Rushmore, as a tribute to several of America’s most recognized and cherished leaders.
Washington’s wisdom is not found in the mythological figure he has become in today’s modern media culture—although I doubt he would have as many FaceBook friends as his other famous February cult hero, St. Valentine. Washington’s legacy is as solid and secure today as it was the day he published his Farewell Address in the American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796—One of the great pieces of American Political Literature that every American Citizen should read on a day we should honor the legacy of leadership he has left us with.
It is in this address that the core of Washington’s leadership legacy rings most loudly and clearly. In his closing thoughts, to the American people, a people he had served so nobly throughout the many fragile moments of a nation in its infancy, he turns to them with a most astonishing request.
Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.
American’s Zeus. The conquering hero of the American Revolution! The man who could never tell a lie! The highest authority of a new nation, at the absolute pinnacle of his popularity and power, turning to his people and confusing his shortcomings, before asking for their forgiveness. An astonishing moment in world history, and perhaps the most important lesson for leaders today—having power, but laying the sword of his authority at the feet of his people through service.
Let us not overlook a great leadership lesson amidst a sea of leadership lessons by one of the great leaders the world has known. George Washington shows a humility and grace that set the standard, not only for future presidents, but any great leader—yesterday, today, or tomorrow.