Reputation Matters

A Word About George Washington’s Reputation

Proverbs 22:1

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold

Of all the characteristics of the Founding Fathers, none has the far-reaching appeal that character produces.  While the British were considered “the enemies,” they were far from evil dictators or savages.  Thus, they opposed George Washington, and for that matter wanted him tried as a traitor and hanged, but joined the chorus of friends and foes that held Washington in highest esteem.  Whether ally or opponent, Washington’s immortal character drew respect from all circles of the world

Washington’s character was evident to all but especially to the men he was charged to lead.  Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s key generals, spoke of his powerful ability to lead men.  Once when the rebel troops caught sight of the unexpected presence of their commander-in-chief, Greene commented, “Joy was visible on every countenance, and it seemed as if the spirit of conquest breathed through the whole army.”  It was not just the hope he inspired, but the confidence that the man himself brought to the men who followed his leadership. Abigail Adams, wife of Washington’s Vice-President, wrote to her husband:  “You had prepared me to entertain a favorable opinion of General Washington, but I thought the half was not told to me.  Dignity with ease and complacency, the gentleman soldier, look agreeable blended in him.  Modesty marks every line and feature of his face.”  Washington’s artillery commander Henry Knox said to his wife of the General that he “fills his place with vast ease and dignity, and dispenses happiness around him.

One of the most intriguing praises of the character of Washington came from the oft-forgotten founding father Gouverneur Morris.  Morris, himself the author of much of the preamble of the Constitution, said that Washington had the unique ability to master the inner passions that raged within him.  His premise was that Washington was a man of great passion which had the capacity to boil over into a rage.  Many an officer and enlisted man were objects of that passion.  However, Washington had a unique ability to tame those passions and demonstrate a level of self-control that enabled him to lead with fiery passion and yet not burn those around him.  Indeed, the famed portrait artist Gilbert Stuart said of the General, “Had he been born in the forests, he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes.” Washington’s ability to keep those passions under bridle enabled him to lead with ferocity, passion, focus, and yet do so with serenity and a calm needed in great leaders.

From early in his leadership of the army and the nation, praise was heaped on Washington.  Early on, Washington, through two letters addressed to him, received the title “His Excellency,” a name he did not shy away from.  To say he was unaware of his position, presences, and posterity would be completely false.  Washington always knew he was being watched and the praise of others affirmed what he believed to be true.  Washington was passionate about what the great historian Joseph Ellis calls his “posterity project.” He wanted his legacy to live on long after his death.

However, it was not only the praise of friends that speaks loudly about the General.  It was the praise of his enemies that affirms the greatness of his character.

1 Peter 2:12

12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

It is rare that a person is praised in life by his friends. Those words are most often reserved for the man in death.  However, what is even more amazing was the praise of his enemies.  The fact that enemies would praise the greatness of Washington speaks as clearly to his character as just about any other example.  From opposing soldiers, to enemy commanders, to world leaders, the character of Washington was appreciated by all levels of society.  General and Lord Howe, British commanders who had been fighting Washington for several months, said of Washington that though enemies, they held his “person and character in high esteem.”

When King George III heard Washington would, following the victory of the Revolution, surrender his commission and refuse to take control of the nation as a dictator, he told the painter Benjamin West: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  Even the king recognized the extraordinary nature of this man from Virginia.

This was Washington’s last and possibly greatest accomplishment to the American cause for democracy.  Simply put, he retired.  He didn’t become king.  It was his love of country, but most of all, his character that kept him from becoming king.

 

A View From the “Other Side”

Originally published by the Huffington Post.

The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program on Why We Must Learn to Understand and Relate to Each Other

Over the past 18 months, I have been welcomed into a family I never expected to be a part of. When word came in that I had been accepted into the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, little did I know how my life would change forever. I was now part of a family that didn’t always look, believe, or talk like me but has become a vital part of who I am becoming.

Six months have now passed since graduation from the program, and I recently had the privilege to return to Little Rock, Arkansas for a session that focused on the leadership skills of President Bill Clinton. As I listened to the 2017 class speak of their encounter with the always-gregarious former Commander-in-Chief, I was reminded of my own experience with the 42nd President of the United States.

The leadership topic discussed in this module was the powerful communication prowess of the President. From his early years as a leader in Arkansas, all the way to the White House, President Clinton advocated for three primary values: opportunity, responsibility, and community. Clinton believed these three principles were critical and, whether it was in a stump speech in his bid for governor, his 1992 acceptance speech at the DNC, or in the 1995 State of the Union Address, the President would champion opportunity for all, responsibility by every individual, and the need for a united community. This “New Covenant” was not only his political philosophy but also set his agenda.

As a pastor of a church in a “Red” state, I was interested to learn more about the President and his ability to leverage his communication skills in leadership. I wanted not only to hone my abilities but also to better understand how leaders communicate and, more important, how they listen. Like anyone, I came to Little Rock with many preconceived ideas. I heard stories of the President’s ability to charm a crowd but was eager to discover if that charisma translated beyond the words into the man himself. Would meeting him in person change my perspective?

Perspective is a powerful tool for a leader. If you observe only one side of a tapestry, you will see only strings and knots with no apparent order or design. In politics, it is very easy to have a largely one-sided view of leaders and I discovered even some of my views of the president to be one-sided. Politics can cut people down to the simplest, most base descriptions, distorting the public’s perception of the true leader.

Like a tapestry, I discovered President Clinton to be a very complex man. Over dinner we discussed people, places, and spiritual beliefs. The President spoke with his characteristically unique ability to recall specific names attached to particular stories and events, which revealed a man who cared deeply about helping others, even if our preferred means of accomplishing those goals differed. Without a doubt, the President “held court” at the table, but his stories clearly reflected a man who had listened to others and allowed their experiences to inform his mind and to touch his heart. The experience with President Clinton communicated to me that, though many of our views differ, it is to our peril to stop listening to one another and to stop seeking understanding of the view “from the other side.”

This distance from that night has given me greater perspective as to what the Presidential Leadership Scholars program is about. In a time when there is not only fighting between the political parties but also deep division within the same party, the nation loses. Our calling must be to seek understanding that we might work together for the greater good. This is not “pie-in-the-sky” thinking but is a deeply held value and tradition of our great land that must not be lost. My fellow scholars and I do not agree on some issues, but we have learned the incredible value that comes from a wide variety of perspectives, and we are seeking to work together for positive change.

My experience with President Clinton, as well as my deep friendships with my fellow scholars, have given me greater optimism about the ability of people to work together even though their perspectives and views may differ. The greatness of America is not its unanimity but its unity.

 Brent Taylor, D.Min is a pastor, professor, and author of the upcoming book, Founding Leadership: Lessons on Business and Personal Leadership from the Men Who Brought You the American Revolution.  Dr. Taylor is a 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar, a joint program and partnership between the Clinton Foundation and Presidential Center in Little Rock, the George W. Bush Center in Dallas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation in Austin and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation in College Station

Fabric

Have you ever thought about how much you are part of the fabric of life? The fact is, you are part of a fabric that is larger than yourself. Here are five quick thoughts as it relates to you being fabric:

1. You weren’t made to do life by yourself. You need others weaved around you.
2. You are stronger the more you weave others into the fabric of your life. Don’t isolate yourself. An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, run alone. If you want to go far, take people with you.”
3. Variety in the colors of those who surround you are what makes your life more beautiful. If all the people in your life look like you, you may want to broaden the “palate” of your fabric.
4. If you have stains, marks, and blemishes in your life, it doesn’t mean you are no longer a good person or have lost your usefulness. The fact is, your greatest hurts can become your greatest service to help others woven around you.
5. There may be certain textures that “rub you the wrong way” but it may be those difficult people that make you better. Don’t begrudge those folks. They may make you better in ways that comfort could never bring.

So in summary, there is much good to be found in the fabric of our lives.

Life on the Monkey Bars

One of the funniest Jerry Seinfeld jokes I ever heard him tell (as if he and I hung out together) was actually about Al-Qaeda. Seinfeld said that this terrorist organization must think the strategy to defeat the West would come down to an epic battle on the monkey bars. Every Al-Qaeda video seems to show them training in the desert on the monkey bars.

The monkey bars were not my favorite piece of playground equipment (that is reserved for the rusty merry-go-round), but they do hold a great life lesson for us. I realized this by reading something said by CS Lewis. Lewis said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing the monkey bars. You have to let go to move forward.”

I deal with people all the time that are hurting in life and often because they won’t let go of the past. One of the sessions I deal with when I speak in corporations is the issue of forgiveness. If an employee won’t unpack the baggage of the past, not only will they be limited in their ability to move forward in life, but they will make everyone they are around miserable.

These comments are in no way intended to belittle the depth of the hurt a person may have experienced. However, unless a person seeks to heal and move forward, they will continue to be victimized by the hurt in their past. Whether it’s abuse, a divorce, an unjust firing, or a crime, life is filled with hurts that can cause us to falter and fail.

Though very difficult, sometimes we have to simply acknowledge the hurt, and to quote a somewhat famous Disney movie, let it go. Until we let some things in the past go, we will never move forward. The task of letting go is never easy, but health and healing don’t come without effort. What greater effort should be put forth in a person’s life than to be healthy so they might be helpful to others.

Have you been hurt in life? The grass is flat in front of you. Don’t let yesterday destroy today and ruin all your tomorrows.

Do you need to let go of that monkey bar?

The Difference Between FDR and LBJ

Below is an excerpt from my book Founding Leadership.  In this chapter on Benjamin Franklin, I talk about the difference in how FDR rallied people in WWII and LBJ failed to do so in Vietnam.

 

Consider this tale of two wars: World War II and Vietnam. Why did one enjoy overwhelming public support while the other divided popular opinion? One could list a thousand reasons, but one difference is obvious. During the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt made sure every American understood the stakes involved in the conflict – that everyone knew this was a life-and-death struggle. Moreover, he took steps to ensure that every citizen was emotionally connected and invested in a successful outcome. More important, he made sure that every American believed he could make a positive difference. There were scrap metal drives and paper drives; people were organized into civil defense forces; food and fuel were rationed. Those who couldn’t serve in the armed forces felt they could contribute to victory on the home front. Everyone was told – and shown – that their contributions mattered. The nation’s emotional focus was directed toward “V for Victory” and Rosie the Riveter.

By contrast, Lyndon Johnson didn’t come close to securing a positive emotional connection for the Vietnam War. Quite the opposite: he succeeded in generating widespread negative emotions about the war – not least because he didn’t clearly spell out America’s war aims. Few people had any idea what victory would look like, how it would benefit them and why they should care (unless they were likely to be drafted). This era also marked a notable shift in how the media viewed the presidency and administration officials – reporters were deceived and bought into it, and when the facts came to light, reporters and editors lost much of their previous respect for officials.

Without clarity and compelling emotional reasons to fight in Vietnam, there was a lack of team spirit on the home front – to put it mildly.

Conversely, the efforts FDR spearheaded on the home front encouraged people to participate in the war effort, regardless of how significant each person’s contribution really was. People really felt as though they were making a difference. They had a stake in the outcome of the conflict, whereas in Vietnam civilians were told to go about their business as if nothing were happening and let the professionals worry about the sacrificing and dying. Civilians, therefore, did not have to “buy in” to whether the war was just or righteous – or even a good idea – because most weren’t called upon to make any contributions or decisions.

 

To read more, you can purchase a copy of Founding Leadership through this website under the heading “The Book.”

 

Flying Frogs

Isn’t it hard when a person gets the credit for your good ideas or someone passes off a joke you have just told as their own?

I heard a funny story about a frog that wanted to go south with the birds for the winter. It was too far to hop and he couldn’t fly, so he thought about it and came up with a solution. He got a couple of his bird friends to hold each end of a stick in their beaks and then the little frog clamped down on the center of the stick with his mouth. The birds took off and the frog was hanging from the stick they were carrying in their beaks.

They flew over a couple of farmers who observed the scene. One farmer said to the other, “What a brilliant idea! Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. I bet those birds came up with that great plan!”

When the frog heard that, he just couldn’t contain himself, so he yelled, “It was meeeeeeeeeee” as he fell to the ground.

The moral of the story:

If someone else gets the credit for your good idea, just keep your mouth closed!

No one likes credit stealers, but we have to keep our egos in check and make sure we are focused on bigger ideas. It’s easy to get distracted as to who gets the credit and miss the goals that are trying to be accomplished. That is the world petty people deal in on a daily basis. Great leaders keep their eyes on the bigger vision, not the petty details.  Great people are more concerned about accomplishing the task rather than taking all the credit.

It can be very frustrating when someone takes credit for your ideas. When that happens, remember the words of Ronald Reagan who said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”