Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Studies in Leadership: George Washington

Posted by admin March - 15 - 2021 - Monday

I continue to read books about the different wars that the US has fought since its inception in 1776. Finishing a book on the American Revolutionary War was eye-opening. I had no idea what an “upset” our victory over Great Britain was. The US beating Russia in the Winter Olympics pales in comparison to the job that Washington and his army pulled off against the British! Not only were the Colonists fighting against the strongest army in the world but… they were outnumbered in manpower about 3 to 1. Fortunately for Washington and the colonial army, the British had several inept commanding generals going up against the Americans. It never fails to amaze me how leaders will hesitate when victory is in their grasp and fail to “put away” their enemy. This was the case any number of times during the Revolutionary War. Washington, quite frankly, was lucky! However, the longer the war dragged on, the more Washington learned to take advantage of the British commanders’ indecisiveness. Washington went through a “baptism of fire” as he learned effective leadership skills. But, he did learn from his mistakes. Eventually, it allowed him to turn the tables on the British army and defeat them. It’s not the best way to learn leadership skills; but, if you ever find yourself thrust into a leadership role, being open to learning is the best possible position you can put yourself into. Let’s look at how George Washington grew into a great leader.

1- He was named Commander-in-Chief of the American army with only limited fighting experience. Washington did have that “it” factor that I’ve talked about previously. That “it” is a self-confidence that great leaders possess— without being arrogant. He naturally drew people TO him. Interestingly, Washington was not a great public speaker. So giving passionate motivational speeches wasn’t his thing. He was not a politician. He didn’t spin situations to make himself look good nor did he curry favor with the members of the Continental Congress. Finally, as I stated, he was not an expert tactician. His lack of training and experience in fighting wars was the main reason for lacking this quality.

2- What Washington DID have was “instincts.” He knew when to hit and when to run. He had great instincts about people too. He did a good job of surrounding himself with commanders who knew how to fight. Those who were simply looking for the title of general, Washington quickly eliminated from command positions. Men like Lafayette and Vin Steuben, though, he gave plenty of leeway in taking charge.

3- Washington built loyalty among his staff. This is a continuation of #2. Once he found those commanders (assistant coaches!) who could lead and fight, he built trust with them. Washington knew the importance of having subordinates who respected him and would fight FOR him— not AGAINST him. He was willing to delegate authority to those commanders who were loyal to him. I think he knew that Benedict Arnold was going to show his “true colors” sooner or later. Washington never gave Arnold the respect that Arnold thought he deserved. Thus, his name became synonymous with traitor.

4- His men (players) respected him. Washington earned that respect the hard way… which is the right way! Nobody in his army outworked the General. The story is told that when the American army arrived at Yorktown to start the siege of Cornwallis’ British army, Washington called for a shovel. He was the first man to begin digging the earthworks to protect the Americans from the British cannon. When you see your leader (Head Coach) out there doing the “dirty work” with the grunts, it’s got to have a positive impact on your people!

5- Washington is described by historians as possessing patience, dignity, perseverance and… an unwavering devotion to his cause. I call that “BIG Team! Little me.” The general was committed to seeing this fight for freedom become a reality. He held onto it during the darkest hours of the war. I wonder how many coaches give up too easily or… too soon? Because they weren’t really committed to the cause. Too many coaches are in it for their own ego.

George Washington ensured the existence of the United States of America. Truly… he was the Father of our country!

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