[November 1, 2018] After eight years of a bitter struggle, the U.S. Revolutionary War was coming to a close. By 1782, General George Washington had run a ragtag army and, with the help of the French, had beaten the British. The war’s end seemed in sight but there were problems within the officer ranks of the Americans.1
On March 15, 1783, an “unauthorized meeting” of Army officers was held in a wooden hall in the Newburgh, New York military camp. Washington had not been invited but he showed up to express his dismay at the proceedings. General Washington’s demeanor visibly demonstrated that he understood the challenges and frustrations of his men who had not been paid, had been ignored by Congress and were under great hardship. You can read about his comments to those men (see link here for what we now call the “Newburgh Address”).
For us today, what are most important are the leadership lessons from George Washington at Newburgh. Some of the most crucial:
- Leadership requires character: Leaders of character display an unswerving pattern of conduct that has a positive influence on others.
- Principled leadership is your compass: Washington’s core beliefs drove him to support the ideals of Liberty despite the frustrations and hardships.
- Leaders must inspire: Washington inspired his officers by setting a personal example of selfless dedication to discipline and self-development.
- Effective leaders build bonds of trust: He was able to tap into the personal bond with his officers and through this connection, change their hearts, and their decision not to mutiny.
- Leadership requires loyalty: Washington strongly believed in the principle of civilian control over the military. He respected Congress and would not stand for his officers blaming Congress for the lack of supplies, recruits, or pay. He knew that for Liberty to survive, the people had to rule.
Sharing lessons from George Washington’s time may seem passé or, for some, inappropriate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The qualities of great leadership do not change over time or across cultures.
- In the U.S., we often read about the American Army; the battles, the hardships on both the troops and civilians, and the diplomatic accomplishments and failures. But what we rarely hear about is the near mutiny of Army officers under Washington at Newburgh, New York in 1783. This is where a group of officers met to discuss the payment issue and possible replacement of Washington with General Horatio Gates. There was even discussion of bypassing Congress and establishing a military dictatorship.