Great leaders! Washington and Churchill had a rare trait: character.

I came across two quotes today, one in my casual reading and one in research for a book I hope to publish this summer. I will be using these quotes in a future book, which may be published in 2012 or 2013 if I write that book immediately after this one. But I’d like to share the quotes with you now:

From The American Revolution by Gordon Wood (page 84):

Washington’s ultimate success as the American commander in chief, however, never stemmed from his military abilities… Instead, it was his character and political talent and judgment that mattered most. His stoicism, dignity, and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds came to symbolize the entire Revolutionary cause.

Washington always deferred to civilian leadership and never lost the support of the Congress.

He was always loyal to his fellow officers in the Continental Army and they to him; they trusted him, and with good reason.

Speaking about trust, famed historian Paul Johnson writes in Forbes Magazine:

I remember feeling this as a boy in 1940, when Britain was in danger of being drowned in the rapidly advancing tide of Nazi military success. We trusted Winston Churchill to save us, and he, in turn, trusted the British people to have the courage and endurance and the intelligence and strength to make salvation possible.

George Washington and Winston Churchill may be best remembered for winning their respective wars and their successful terms as leaders of their countries. But their successes in both the military and political arenas (both were also outstanding writers) because of their character. They could be trusted. They exercised good judgment. They exercised courage in both action and inaction if reason advised caution at the moment. They were thoughtful and honorable.

One marked difference between the two: Washington tried to avoid public office while Churchill actively sought fame and power. However, both gave themselves fully to the service of their countries when chosen to do so. And even as Churchill sought power, he never backed down from unpopular opinions (attacking Nazism in the 1930s and then Communism after World War II) even if it cost him politically.

A message to our public servants: whether you sought power (that’s 99% of you people) or were drafted into it, be honest, be truthful, and be honorable. Do the right thing, even when it is difficult. Especially when it is difficult. Follow the examples of Washington and Churchill.

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2 responses to “Great leaders! Washington and Churchill had a rare trait: character.

  1. Great post. I will have to put that Gordon Wood on my (very long) reading list.

    • It’s a basic and short (166 pages) American Revolution book, yet it has its share of interesting insights and analysis. I’m only half way done and it’s taking me forever to read because I’m writing as I read it, but I would highly recommend it.

      One of Wood’s other books, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, won a Pulitzer Prize and his The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 is also supposed to be very good. I need to get those books as well.

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