Leaders like Napoleon, Washington and MacArthur shared a common trait, they all lead by example. This trait made them great in the eyes of their subordinates and in the eyes of history buffs like me. This single trait also provides an explanation as to why they were successful as leaders.
Without a doubt, if you’re bent on leading by example then you’re doing the right thing. It’s the first leadership rule taught in military schools all over the world and it’s by far the best way to motivate people into action. It’s the secret sauce behind what makes leaders great and how they’re able to lead their subordinates into greatness.
Throughout history, generals and kings proved time and time again that they were able to change situations that would be otherwise disastrous by doing the right thing by their subordinates. Showing them how they should act even in the gravest of circumstances.
I hand-picked three generals who lead by example and carved their place into our history books with the power of their personalities and achievements…
1# George Washington – A Tale of Meekness and Strength
As a commanding officer, Washington appeared to his soldiers as a natural leader. They followed him without question, his devotion, earnestness and battle prowess set him apart from his subordinates and gave them a model to aspire to.
Washington had power over his troops even when he was not in command anymore. Leading by example and his meekness, he helped prevent the seizure of power by the Continental Army after the Continental Congress refused (or was unable to) pay and provide supplies in what is definitely one of his greatest moments, later called the Newburgh Conspiracy.
After the revolutionary war, the Continental Army came to George Washington and asked him to march with them in order to seize the power from the civilian authority. He told them that he won’t do it since its wrong and they’re committing treason, but they didn’t want to listen.
Since he was not in command at that time, he couldn’t influence them to change their mind formally, so he reverted to a more basic/honest tactic. In a meeting that was supposed to launch the rebellion, Washington tried to no avail again to persuade them to give up the planned rebellion, finely, after supposedly “giving up” on persuading them, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses to read a letter sent to him by the Continental Congress.
No one had ever seen Washington with glasses before. Back in those days, wearing glasses was a physical weakness and commanders used to hide it from their subordinates. As he slowly put the glasses to his face, he said: “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind…”
The eyes of most of his audience filled with tears as the assembled officers realized that Washington had given as much or more in the service of the new nation as any of them. Within minutes, the officers voted unanimously to express confidence in Congress and their country.
2# Napoleon Bonaparte – Courage and Inspiration
Napoleon had been described as an indomitable force both on the battle field and in politics. He inspired courage both in privates and generals with a remarkable personality and a sharp uncompromising analytical brain.
Of course, not all was perfect in the realm of France. Napoleon’s character was difficult to decipher at times (which some say made him even more powerful in the mind of his adversaries and subordinates), writer Germaine de Staël said that he was:
“Neither good nor violent, neither gentle nor cruel, such a being, having no equivalent, could neither feel nor arouse the slightest sympathy.” Not exactly the traits you would expect from a leader…
But one thing everyone agreed on, he had guts!
According to the Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz:
“War is the realm of danger and courage is the [general’s] first requirement.”
During the 1813 Campaign, Napoleon had to personally rally his troops in the battles of Lutzen, Bautzen and Dresden; rallying them to retake valuable tactical positions, pushing them to their limits and eventually winning the battlefield.
Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and the general who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in Waterloo said about his rival that above all, he inspired men – “His presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 soldiers”.
Needless to say that a soldier that has a general shouting at him “follow me!” from the frontlines is much braver than a soldier who hears from behind a “–forward” call to march.
3# General Douglas MacArthur – The Subordinates EQ Manifesto
Douglas MacArthur was a decorated battle hardened and sometime controversial General who was famous because of his military achievements. According to Wikipedia: “one of only five men ever to raise to the rank of General of the Army in the U.S. Army and the only man ever to become a field marshal in the Philippine Army.” Mac Arthur was ahead of his time in his ideas and notions, but was remembered by his subordinates mostly because he saw the world through their eyes.
MacArthur believed that someone is worthy to lead only if those he commands deem him worthy. He believed that it was critical to stay as connected and as sensitive to his subordinates’ needs as possible.
William Addleman Ganoe who served under General MacArthur in WestPoint wrote about 17 famous principal of leadership they called “The MacArthur Tenets.”
They reflect the management traits he had observed in MacArthur. These principles are valid to this day for anyone looking to get the respect and cooperation of just about anyone he manages or otherwise engaged with on a managerial basis…
- Do I heckle my subordinates or strengthen and encourage them?
- Do I use moral courage in getting rid of subordinates who have proven themselves beyond doubt to be unfit?
- Have I done all in my power by encouragement, incentive and spur to salvage the weak and erring?
- Do I know by NAME and CHARACTER a maximum number of subordinates for whom I am responsible? Do I know them intimately?
- Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives and administration of my job?
- Do I lose my temper at individuals?
- Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates WANT to follow me?
- Do I delegate tasks that should be mine?
- Do I aggregate everything to myself and delegate nothing?
- Do I develop my subordinates by placing on each one as much responsibility as he can stand?
- Am I interested in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if he were a member of my family?
- Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?
- Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy?
- Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?
- Is my door open to my subordinates?
- Do I think more of POSITION than JOB?
- Do I correct a subordinate in the presence of others?
A famous MacArthur quote embodies exactly the ideal that MacArthur strived for:
“A general is just as good or just as bad as the troops under his command make him.”
The MacArthur Tenets were written not by General MacArthur, they were written by people serving with and under him. I’d say that MacArthur achieved the above mentioned ideal and much more.
If you’re a leader, a parent or a mentor – lead by example and they will follow!
Until next time.