In 1783, the Revolutionary War was coming to a close. Despite that, portions of the Continental Army were growing impatient with congress’ lack of financial support that was promised to them. As a result, what is now referred to as the Newburgh Conspiracy involved disgruntled members of the army looking to threaten Congress with either abandonment or takeover. This conspiracy was never acted upon due to the leadership of Washington and his ability to connect with and instill confidence in those men.
Upon hearing about the conspiracy, Washington visited the men to hopefully reason with them and help them think twice about their future actions. Historians have captured a significant detail from this exchange during Washington’s closing remarks to these men. Washington mentioned he had a supportive letter to read from a Virginia Congressman. As he began to read he had difficulty doing so.
“After stumbling through the first paragraph, he reached in his pocket for a pair of spectacles. Pulling them out, he remarked off-handedly, ‘Gentleman, you must pardon me, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in service to my country.’ The disarming hint of vulnerability from their otherwise stoic leader so deeply affected the officers that some wept openly. After Washington left, they resolved to present him with ‘the unanimous thanks of the officers” and added that “the officers reciprocate his affectionate expressions, with the greatest sincerity of which the human heart is capable.’”
Through sincerity, humility and genuine concern, Washington had convinced the men to recede their claims. It’s considered one of Washington’s greatest battles won.
The effective leadership of George Washington is undisputed. A number of factors including his stature, prominent social standing, education, and intelligence, helped make him the man he was. But ultimately what made him successful and so admired was Washington’s sincere interest and care for those around him – no matter their status. He was passionate about the cause he was enlisted in and his love and respect for all those around him was abundantly clear.
His soldiers, the congress and ultimately the American public trusted him. This is the leadership that is so often lacking in today’s workplace. The leader who is willing to get in the trenches, who cares so deeply and knows the driving motivation for each of their team members that they, as a team are able to achieve great things.