1. Assess George Washington’s leadership performance using at least one leadership theory
The Servant-Leadership theory is a practical philosophy that backs the leaders who choose service first, and then take their role as a way of making their service felt by individuals and institutions. Servant-leadership breeds collaboration, trust, and the ethical use of authority among the leadership (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). George Washington can be regarded as being among the most outstanding servant leaders in the American.
What made him a servant leader was his nature of being humble and willingness to serve his nation (Schwartz, 1983). The self-awareness was further backed by his love for the people he was serving to others-oriented, valued the people he served, and had a commitment towards assisting people in their growth. According to Van Dierendonck (2011), servant leadership means being able to achieve the balance between serving others and exercising one’s power and authority.
The nature of power portrayed by Washington neither came from his formal position of the Commander-in-Chief nor his Presidency but rather his willingness to listen, help and nurture trust and openness with the people he served. It is therefore evident that George Washington depicted high standards of leadership that were past little authority of managing people (Newman, 1992). He exercised his authority in a manner that saw him becoming a very powerful and influential leader, enough to serve his people.
Consequently, George Washington was successful in building effective relationships with his followers as well as his organization. This case alone is an indication that George Washington had a strong orientation towards the sharing of knowledge, empowerment of his followers, and utilizing his focus on servant leadership as a form of persuasion.
True servant leadership is evident in cases where a leader, in this case, George Washington, leads by assuming the position of a servant when relating to his followers. He, therefore, focused on the needs of the people and contributed to the greater benefit. It is common for leadership to come with defined authority over the people. However, the manner in which George Washington managed to balance that power and act to the benefit of the nation, ensured the well-being of his followers (McNeilly, 2008).
He never allowed power to dominate out his perception of leadership, allowing him to prove his higher standards of leadership. Based on the theory of servant leadership, service was at the core of George Washington’s role. Despite the fact that power is associated with leadership, he only used it legitimately, for service (McNeilly, 2008). The notion that leaders need to use their power in serving both the people is a powerful one. Just like George Washington, an ideal leader should use power in building trust with the followers.
2. Was there something unique to his or her leadership?
In 1777, after suffering defeat by the British, George Washington still managed to convince his demoralized troops to struggle despite facing a shortage of munitions as well as the harsh winter conditions. In this case, Washington’s success was not as a result of exerting his power or being a master motivator. His success was due to his selflessness, and willingness to face hardship alongside his troops (Washington & Army, 2014). He did not demand from them anything he would not do in person. His unique leadership character makes him serve as a reminder to every leader that leadership is not just about the leader’s self-interest it is in the interests of the people they represent. As a great leader, George Washington always found ways to work with people.
Power comes with great responsibility. During the uncertain atmosphere of the American Revolution, a movement was driven by officers in the Continental Army that regarded George Washington as being a King of America. However, George Washington was quick to dispel the idea (Newman, 1992).
Even though it sounds an incredible occurrence in the 200 years of U.S. democracy, it was expected of George Washington based on his characteristics. Being a military leader of the fledgling republic, and with the support of the colonists, he was in a position to determine the future of the American people. George Washington never viewed leadership as a tool for personal gain or ambition (Greenstein, 2006).
Instead, it took the opportunity to serve a higher purpose. Unlike his role of commanding soldiers during the American Revolution, George Washington was a Democratic president of the U.S. government. His Democratic leadership was evident when he appointed powerful personalities to his staff. He even confirmed his intentions eight after his appointment as president by not subjecting to the majority cry that he runs for a third term. He voluntarily refused to be nominated and gave up his power. His decision depicted him as a democratic leader.
Being the president, George Washington had the opportunity of choosing to mimic a parliamentary system or having the aristocratic social class dominate the executive branch of the government. He could have committed himself to solely meeting the legislative directions.
But instead, he used his constitutional powers in leading America through its first growing pains (Rasmussen, 1999). His leadership form helped with restoring the nation’s finances, securing the nation from dangerous war with the European, creating an opportunity for American expansion and seeing the Constitution through allowing the first political parties.
3. To what extent did he or she shape the times or was shaped by them?
Shaping the authority of the presidency Based on the American Constitutional requirements, Washington’s vigorous policies set an example of the leadership of an energetic president, rather than a ceremonial figurehead. Subordinates were expected to seek the president’s approval of their actions. Furthermore, George Washington accepted personal responsibility for the conduct of his subordinates (Schwartz, 1983).
During his consultations with the Senate on appointments, he made it clear that the only President had the authority of firing appointees. This shaped the president’s control of the executive branch of the government. Although Washington used the president’s veto constitutional power on two occasions, he insisted on the right of the president to reject any legislation he did not agree (Rasmussen, 1999).
George Washington’s presidency saw the birth of the idea of implied powers in the Constitution that triggered him to signing a law that saw the creation of the first national bank. Similarly, he employed his powers as the commander-in-chief to call out the militia to end the Whiskey Rebellion. He also set the pace for the subsequent presidents to take a hand in foreign policies that would protect Americans by prudently resisting British and French invasion and keeping America out of the European war.
Many authors have reached a solid consensus that Washington’s presidency set the nation on a path that witnessed for over 200 years, making America among the longest republics in history (Schwartz, 1983 Newman, 1992 McNeilly, 2008). He established governance practices that would see America last for generations.
In fact, George Washington did more to equip the presidential office beyond the expectations of everyone. Rasmussen (1999) indicates that George Washington invented tradition for American leaders as he went along. He acted more of a Founding Father, therefore becoming part of the unwritten Constitution.
From a slaveholder to advocating for freedomGeorge Washington leadership marked a revolution that made the greatest advances towards advocating for individual liberty.
On the contrary, throughout a greater part of his life, he was a slaveholder who denied liberty to others and instead became wealthy from their labor (Newman, 1992). Washington considered slavery as a legal act and insisted on the property rights of slaveholders. He even went to the extent of preventing some of his slaves from fleeing to the northern states. Nevertheless, some of Washington’s private correspondence argued that he later came to reject slavery (Rasmussen, 1999).
His doubts about slavery date back from the Revolution when he was against the buying and selling of Africans. He proclaimed himself as being principled against human trafficking. According to him, slavery itself was an immoral institution and no living being wished for its abolition more sincerely than George Washington did. In his will, drafted in 1799, George Washington instructed that his slaves be freed upon his death and the death of his wife with a fund trust being set up to care for the welfare of those who were elderly or infirm.
Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Weber, T. J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. Annual review of psychology, 60, 421-449.
Greenstein, F. I. (2006). Presidential difference in the early republic: The highly disparate leadership styles of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 36(3), 373-390.
McNeilly, M. (2008). George Washington’s innovative leadership: lessons executives can learn from America’s first commander-in-chief. Strategy & Leadership, 36(2).
Newman, S. P. (1992). Principles or Men? George Washington and the Political Culture of National Leadership, 1776-1801. Journal of the Early Republic, 12(4), 477-507.
Rasmussen, W. M. (1999). George Washington: The man behind the myths. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, (33), 1-3.
Schwartz, B. (1983). George Washington and the Whig conception of heroic leadership. American Sociological Review, 18-33.
Van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of management, 37(4), 1228-1261.
Washington, G., & Army, C. (2014). The American Revolution: 1775-1783. Vol. II. Boston: Little, Brown.