15 leadership lessons from America’s greatest leader

The best way to understand leadership is to understand leaders.

As an Adjunct Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University for 15 years (2003-2018), I taught two graduate level leadership courses.

One of my classes Executive communication as a leadership tool, blended leadership theory, principles, insights, case studies, and more, with a particular focus on the most important leadership skill of all: communication. One of the books we used was Leadership lessons from George Washington by the late James C. Rees, longtime executive director of George Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

We used this book for two reasons. First of all, I have reviewed more leadership manuals than I can remember, and in my opinion, there is no such thing as a good leadership manual. There are, on the other hand, a lot of great books on a lot of great leaders, but great leadership manuals? Not really.

“Leadership cannot be learned.”

Harold Geneen, one of America’s 20 Iconic Business Leaderse century said: “Leadership cannot be taught; it can only be learned. Was he ever right. But speaking of books, reading books about – or by – leaders has far more impact than books on leadership.

And second, while this book about America’s greatest leader is academically sound, historically accurate, and thoroughly researched, it is written simply, clearly, and compellingly. The way to understand leadership is not through a textbook; it is by understanding the leaders.

Skills or Traits?

What makes this book and its lessons so relevant is, well, let’s save that answer for a moment. Let’s set it up by asking what characteristics are essential for a successful leader.

The answer, when you read Rees, is as clear as day. Let’s first look at the fifteen specific leadership lessons Rees draws. He says, a leader (1) has a vision, (2) is honest, (3) has ambition, (4) is courageous, (5) has self-control, (6) takes personal responsibility. , (7) is determined, (8) has a strong work ethic, (9) uses good judgment, (10) learns from mistakes, (11) is humble, (12) does research and development, (13) values ​​presentation, (14) exceeds expectations, and (15) has sincere faith.

Leadership is about “soft skills”.

OK, no arguments with any of them, but what’s the big picture? When you take the view from 30,000 feet, it’s easy to see. None of these lessons have anything to do with technical skills, or “technical skills” as we call them. These are all personal traits or “soft skills”. Each of them. None of them depend on your skills as a biologist, accountant, shortstop or surgeon. They are all about the kind of person you are.

In other words, leadership roles, functions, or opportunities go to leaders, not necessarily to people who do regression analysis, build a building, or analyze a spreadsheet better than everyone else. Sure, you have to be good at what you do, but your leadership journey begins where your functional journey ends.

When I was assigned to teach my first course, I thought it would be a good idea to develop a relevant working definition of a leader. Not finding one to my satisfaction anywhere, I took on the responsibility of developing one. It’s here.

“A leader is someone who has – and articulates – a vision, creates change, and inspires others to achieve common goals while creating more effective working relationships.”

Again, there’s nothing technical about it, no “technical skills” about it. Your true value as a leader does not depend on the quality of your work; it’s how much you inspire others to do theirs.

Comments are closed.