George Washington never sought out to be the leader he is greatly remembered as, let alone the Father of Our Country. In fact, he never sought out to be president — but was unanimously voted in. The two men who stood alongside him would have given their right arm for Washington’s position of leadership.
Thomas Jefferson (who served as our third president) and Alexander Hamilton (yes, the one now widely famed from the award-winning Broadway musical) were two who served with Washington in his first years of a presidency who surely gave him a run for his money. They were a decade apart in age and had such ferociously opposing ideals it led to the creation of what is now known as the Republican and Federalist parties. Out of spite for each other, they remained vicious opponents while serving on the same team, shouting from the streets and ridiculing one another in mass-produced papers to prove the other’s ideals and passion faulty.
For Washington, it no doubt presented a testy trial, leading a team of rivals. Yet as the first president of the United States his principles still hold their own as a guide for leaders today, particularly where rivals are present.
Here are five ways to lead in the midst of rivalry:
- He led with integrity. Washington has long been remembered for his impeccable character and integrity, not only as a leader but as an individual. It is his consistent and dependable qualities such as these that lead to his unanimous vote in office. Even among the friction, his character remained constant.
- He interpreted leading with listening. While surely Hamilton and Jefferson always had plenty to say, Washington held much power, not in what he said, but how he was always eager to listen. At the Constitutional Convention which began in 1787 and led to the first election, it is recorded that Washington spoke a total of three times. Washington’s main focus was maintaining unity among his team and nation.
- He had an emotional intelligence that was ahead of his time. Emotions can become easily lost — the feeling of them, the acceptance or even the awareness of them (unless it’s your own anger and disappointment). Washington was remembered for being personable and aware of the emotions in the room. If the ability to hone in on the emotions in a room can help navigate a conference meeting, imagine what it would have contributed to navigating a war or the establishing of a country with endless views and opinions.
- He did not take sides. During the rivalry of Hamilton and Jefferson, it was never noted that Washington was biased, but rather he genuinely valued the qualities and passions both men brought to the table.
- He stayed level-headed. He did not allow the tension on the team to rattle him or shift his focus. In “1776,” David McCullough wrote how Washington had “the look and bearing of a man accustomed to respect and being obeyed. He was not austere. There was no hint of arrogance. ‘Amiable’ and ‘modest’ were words frequently used to describe him, and there was a softness in his eyes that people remembered.” When everyone else can be easily rattled and heated, someone has to keep some self-control and poise intact.
To this day, Washington is remembered for his stoic, humble, and sound leadership. While there may seem to be more spotlights on the quotes, books, and lives of Jefferson and Hamilton, Washington’s consistent character, notable integrity and focus on unity are what ultimately lead him to the presidency. Often times, leading quietly, proactively and consistently speaks louder than words.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of “Framework Leadership.” A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern’s president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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