This is my interview on “Point of View” with Dr. Nick Pitts and Kerby Anderson.
A Word About George Washington’s Reputation
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.
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?
In case you missed it, here is the interview I recently did with Janine Turner on iHeart Radio about my book Founding Leadership.
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.”
Today is an interesting day in history. May 10 marks the anniversary of Benedict Arnold’s victory at Ft. Ticonderoga during the American Revolution. It also marks the birthday of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of our 16th President. Here we find two men who have gone down in history for less than noble causes.
While Arnold gained fame throughout the war (most notably at the Battle of Saratoga), his most famous act was his betrayal of his country as he turned over the plans to West Point to a British spy named Major John Andre. Booth, of course, also gained fame through an act of treachery as he killed Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest President in American history.
Other than ignoble endings, what do these two men have in common? To me, the similar strain in their lives was an insatiable desire to build their ego. When we live for self, it always leads to destruction. Arnold was overlooked, abused, and mistreated and allowed that hurt to attack his ego. His response was to betray his country knowing the British would ultimately prevail. Booth was so filled with ego, anger, and racism that he actually believed his terrible deed would bring him fame across the South. Both men discovered they were terribly wrong.
Following his treachery, Arnold was allowed to command British troops for a season, but ultimately died in loneliness and isolation in England finding out that both sides believed “once a traitor, always a traitor.” Booth was shocked to discover the South did not approve his actions and was hunted down like a dog. After being mortally wounded, Booth died on the porch of the Garrett farm looking at his hands and saying, “Useless, useless.”
Ego is a powerful force we all have to wrestle. We have to balance a healthy view of ourselves with an unhealthy idea that we are something greater than we really are. Our culture does not value humility, but pride brings destruction. Great leaders keep their ego in check…not giving into self-pity nor too high an estimation of who we are and what we can do.
Great leaders need people who can freely speak into their lives and keep their ego and pride in check. Arnold and Booth did not allow those around them to speak into their hearts, but instead listened only to their hurt and their pride. We all have hurt in our lives. We need to know how to carry the hurts of our past in such a way that they do not continue to hurt us and bring destruction in our lives.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” That dog is always there. To end strong, we have to keep that dog in the right place. Arnold and Booth got bit. May we not make their mistake.
To read more about Benedict Arnold, click on “The Book” above and order a copy of my book “Founding Leadership: Business and Personal Leadership Principles From the Men Who Brought You the American Revolution.”
On January 13, I was on the Janine Turner radio program talking about my book “Founding Leadership.” Here is a link to the audio of the interview.
He was always mad at me. I never knew why, but this one guy was always on my case. It didn’t matter if I did right or wrong, he always thought I did wrong…and let me know it. If he could find a hurtful comment, he would say it. If he could threaten me, he would do it. If he could discourage me and bring me down, he did it. I did not like seeing this guy because I knew he was always going to be trouble. I just didn’t know why he was mad at me.
Have you ever had someone like that in your life? Maybe it’s a person at work or at school or worse, at home. They can make life miserable. If you have that kind of person in your life, I hope this post helps you a little.
I was talking to a friend about this man who was mad at me all the time and my friend said something that really stuck with me. “Brent,” he said, “ask the guy next time you are around him if someone has really hurt him in life.” At first, I thought this was one of those “see how I feel” moments. My friend corrected me and said, “I bet he has been hurt in life and is taking it out on you.” That was surprising to hear, but I thought I would give it a try.
The next time I saw the man, I asked him if he had ever been hurt by someone in life. Oh my! For the next 10 minutes, all I heard was how he had been mistreated and abused by the airline that used to employ him. He said they had taken advantage of him and he would never forgive them. He unleashed a barrage of hate toward that airline in my direction.
Ding! I found the answer. This man wasn’t really mad at me all the time. He was just viewing me as an airline CEO. He took out on me what he wanted the airline to know even though I am not a part of that airline (and rarely fly on it for that matter).
I learned a great lesson that day. The fact is hurt people hurt people. Often they are spreading their hurt to people around them who have nothing to do with the problem. Their hurt is, in their minds, to be shared with others, even if others aren’t interested in it.
We can’t always fix the problems of people who hate on us, but we can do something. While it is true hurt people hurt people, it is also true healed people heal people. The good in your life can be shared just as easily as the negative and your story of healing might be a balm in someone else’s hurting soul.
If you are being attacked, try to discern the hurt in the person’s life. You may never find the answer, but I can guarantee you it’s there. And in the meantime, share a little healing with someone. Your healing may be what they need to overcome the hurt others are bringing in their life.
Hurt people hurt people, but you can choose to bring healing.
In 1886, Nevada hosted its first ever State Fair. As part of the limited attractions, the organizers decided to have a mule team pulling contest. The results were interesting and hold a valuable lesson. The teams of mules pulled their hardest with each owner hoping to secure victory. The first place team pulled 14,000 pounds. The second place team pulled 13,000 pounds. Quite an accomplishment, to say the least.
After the competition was over, someone said, “I wonder how much they could pull together?”
Simple mathematics would tell you that together they could pull 27,000 pounds. But simple mathematics aren’t always that simple.
Both teams were hitched together and began to pull. The result was not 27,000 but 35,000 pounds!
So what is the lesson?
It’s pretty simple: We can do more together than we can on our own.
Look for people to partner with to accomplish shared dreams, visions, and goals. A little more “horsepower” always helps you do more than you could do by yourself.
My son plays on a 4th grade football team that recently played in the championship game. It was a heartbreaking loss in the final, but capped off a tremendous season.
As I reflected on this past season, I began to think of the coaches. My son had three coaches this season that poured their lives into him, not only to make him a better football player, but more importantly, to make him a better young man. As I thought about their approach, four thoughts came to mind that are great principles for leadership even in a corporate setting.
1. Push people toward greatness.
The coaches were not content to let the kids stay at the same level of play all season. Each coach, in their own way, drove each one of the boys toward being better. Too many leaders let their employees stay at the same level for many years. Great leaders are always pushing and encouraging people to be more tomorrow than they are today. Don’t be afraid of pushing someone forward, and don’t be negligent in your responsibility as a leader.
2. Teach principles.
Our coaches always were teaching the fundamentals of football. It doesn’t matter if you are a 4th grader or in the NFL, if you don’t follow the basic principles, you will not win. The same is true in life. Great leaders encourage their followers to do the basics well. Games are not won because of last minute “Hail Mary” passes. Games are won by blocking and tackling in the trenches. The same is true in great organizations.
3. Love them.
Fourth graders are fun to be around and easy to coach. But they also need to know they are loved. They need to know they are valuable and have inherent worth whether they are stars on the gridiron or have just fumbled the ball and lost the game. People need to know you care about them and love them for who they are as humans. Great leaders know the secret: If someone thinks you genuinely care about them, they will go the extra mile to make you succeed.
4. Remember, it’s just 4th grade football.
We were all disappointed when we lost the championship. But we also had to remember that in the end, it’s just 4th grade football. There will be more games to play, and life is more than athletic events. Our coaches were disappointed, but they taught the boys a valuable lesson: there are more important things in life. Great leaders keep perspective and know that the world is not about to end. They keep encouraging because there are more games to be played in life. The business deal that doesn’t go through is not the end of the world. There will be a new opportunity tomorrow.
Many lessons have come through the game of football. I am pleased that three coaches are teaching my son lessons that will last him far beyond his football career. What life lessons have you learned from coaches or from sports?