Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Leading Presidentially

Volume: February 2016

My favorite president is George Washington and today is his birthday. When I was a kid, Washington’s birthday was a time to celebrate and it was its own national holiday. School, the day before the holiday, was always fun. We would dress up as George Washington and/or wear something patriotic. Then, the day was spent learning about the “Father of our Country.” I always enjoyed those events, and cherish the knowledge I gained as a result.

Today, George Washington’s birthday is relegated to a nebulous “President’s Day.” In addition, it appears that children are not being properly exposed to George Washington’s accomplishments. As a result, in a recent USA Today poll ranking public opinion about our greatest President, I was saddened to see that big George garnered only 9% of the vote (he was 13 percentage points behind JFK). In my mind, George Washington was a giant – not only in the lore of our country, but in the history of the World. The United States has sufficient tenure and stature to ensure a prominent place in world history, and George was our foundational president. Now, if that is not something to celebrate, let alone remember, I do not know what is. As such, let us shift gears for a moment and examine five leadership qualities that George Washington exhibited to become such an outstanding leader.

1. He turned knowledge into results. As a young man, George Washington was a surveyor. During his tenure, he gained a terrific knowledge of the Virginia terrain. Later, he would leverage this knowledge into strategic use while leading our forces against the enemy during the revolutionary war.

Question: As a leader what are some examples of you turning your best knowledge points into actions and results for your team?

2. He had guts. George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River in a surprise attack against the British. The maneuver was successful and the battle was won. Do I even need to mention his guts and the intestinal fortitude of troops during Valley Forge?
Question: What is a gutsy action you need to make right now, and how will your team win as a result?

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3. He was a consensus-maker. The early days of a new nation are fragile. George Washington effectively negotiated with the 13 states, Congress, and our close ally at the time, France in order to cobble together an alliance that achieved victory and stability. 
Question: Are you strategically determining when you need to have a majority of people on board, versus a consensus?

4. He was selfless. After the end of the revolutionary war in 1783, rather than assume power over the new republic, he retired to his home in Mount Vernon. It was only later, in 1789, that Congress called upon him to become our first president.

Question: Are you perceived by your team as making selfless decisions and leading in a “team-first” way?

5. He was humble. Upon becoming President, people began to refer to him as “Your Majesty.” Uncomfortable with the high-and-mighty reference, George Washington suggested using the more low-key, “Mr. President.”

Question: Are you keeping the focus on your people and not on yourself?

In my opinion, George Washington was our greatest president (no disrespect to a tall, lanky guy from the 1860’s). In addition, he was faced with challenges greater than any other president, including our current leader. He is a giant in our country’s history. He is a giant in the world’s history. He is someone to admire and to celebrate. Happy Birthday George!

Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). 

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