I was encouraged to read this book because of the gaping hole in leadership internationally, nationally, and locally – whether in politics, education, business, or in the church. Simultaneous with my reading of this book I was interested in something that John Gardner (in an essay on leadership) pointed out, “When the United States was formed, the population stood at around 3 million. That 3 million produced at least six leaders of world class—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton.” Today we have a population 90 times larger than that and I can’t name a single leader that comes close to the aforementioned six men. Along with Gardner I ask the question “Where are they?”
Therefore, my curiosity was peaked in reading this book to discover what we can learn from Washington’s life – and whether we can truly produce great leaders today. One of the main points that Beck makes in the book early on is that “for America to achieve the greatness that George Washington achieved, we have to remember that it is achievable.” In story after story Beck brings out some of the keys to great leadership – character (based on a strong faith in God and His good providence); putting others before self – especially what’s best for the whole; having a vision for liberty and fighting for it; focusing on that which will last beyond us. In a nutshell Beck highlights Washington’s character, trust, and honor in story after story and demonstrates how he united America around freedom so that we could be the best we could be.
The primary lesson of this book and of great leadership is stated by Beck in this manner, “Everything we do in life—every battle that we fight and every mountain that we climb, no matter how many times we fall—may be for no other purpose than to prepare us for that moment when we are called upon to make a difference in this world…What Washington did do was accept the responsibility he had been given, beg the grace of God upon himself and his army, and then work relentlessly to accomplish his goals. What he did do was to keep on working, regardless of the personal sacrifices required or the setbacks that he encountered. He kept the faith, no matter who stood against him; regardless of the gossip, the naysayers and sometimes, regardless even of the betrayal of his friends.”
In conclusion Beck states that if you and I are to be like George Washington in today’s world means:
“a daily struggle between your heart and your brain; between instant gratification and enduring greatness.”
“looking out for our families, our neighbors, and our countrymen—standing for them when they can’t stand for themselves.”
“putting country before party.”
“becoming a leader – not of a country or army, but of yourself, your community, and your own family. It means taking personal responsibility for your actions and holding those around you to the same standard.”
“accepting that this country was chosen for Divine protection because the struggle for freedom is worthy of protection.”
In other words, great leadership involves humility before God; responsibility with what He has stewarded unto us, and faithfulness to the task at hand. This book was a pleasure to read, and pointed out both the strengths and weaknesses of Washington. However, the constant reminder was to be what we can be with God’s help, and do what we can do (not focus on what we can’t do), one step or opportunity at a time. Being a great leader like Washington involves great sacrifice, risk, unselfishness, and tremendous dedication. In the final analysis we need to be willing to personally answer the key question that Beck asks, “Are you willing to lose everything to do what is right?” I am grateful that Washington did, hope I will too, and that his tribe will increase abundantly.