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Leadership Thought #301 – President’s Day Is A Special Day

February 18, 2019

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President’s Day is a special day.  We take time to honor two great men and past presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.   A case could easily be made that without the influence and leadership of these two men our country wouldn’t exist or at least wouldn’t be as strong and united as it is today.  In their own way, they contributed to building a strong national foundation which required great personal sacrifice and the willingness to make bold decisions focused on the greater good.

George Washington was a man who could have easily remained a loyalist.  He had much to lose and little to gain by standing up to England at a time when it was near the peak of its military dominance.   His life could have been filled with wealth and privilege if he just went along with the status quo.  He certainly wouldn’t have had to spend so much time away from his beloved wife Martha and their beautiful home/farm at Mount Vernon.

When you read about Washington you get the sense that he knew he was predestined for greatness. It is clear he felt it was incumbent upon him to live a life that warranted this responsibility.   He strived to build the personal fortitude to step up when the time came regardless of the circumstances.  He led the Continental Army for the duration of the long war without pay, only asking that Congress reimburse his meager expenses.  He lost more battles than he won but was keenly aware of his resource/skill disadvantages and won when it counted.  It is said that when he walked into a room, he earned instant respect and made all of those around him better.  Moreover, when they wanted to make him king, he voluntarily gave up power and stayed true to the democratic origins of the movement.  Just look at world politics today.  How many leaders or revolutionaries walk away from power once they achieve it?  A rare man indeed!

Unlike Washington, Lincoln was born in very humble circumstances.  With only one year of formal schooling, he managed to become one of the most widely quoted leaders in modern history.  His childhood was filled with much adversity and his path to leadership was an exceedingly difficult one.  Lesser men would have given up at many separate times, but Lincoln persevered.  He always persevered.

At a time when our country was coming apart at the seams and some would say the very morality of our nation was being tested, Lincoln stepped up to the challenge. He chose to do what’s right rather than what would have been easy or politically convenient.  He suffered constant personal attacks and second-guessing of his leadership abilities but soldiered on anyway.  When times looked dark and it would have been easy to give up, he stayed the course and never lost sight of what was most important.  He literally risked everything and gave his life for a cause he believed in which was keeping our young country united and committed to the value and dignity of all human life.

So far, America has been truly fortunate that throughout its history we have been able to find leaders both willing and able to step up to whatever big challenges confronted us.   I believe that this leadership has been what has kept us strong and united at times when it could have been easy to dissolve or come apart.  The growth and trajectory of the United States as a world power and beacon of democratic principles is unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Let us hope we find similar leadership as we need it in the future. Washington and Lincoln cast a big shadow and raise the bar on what we can and should expect from our leaders.   Greatness may be rare, but it is often required to keep a community, organization, society, nation, or mankind on the right track.

President’s Day is an important day because it celebrates two great men who changed the course of history for our country (for the better) and set an example of what’s possible with effective and noble leadership.