For many years, I have believed that history is an excellent teacher to anyone who is involved in business.
As an example, there is George Washington, commander of the Continental Army and first president of the United States. While Washington began commanding the Continental Army in 1775 and was president more than 200 years ago, his legacy should be a primer to anyone in business.
As a general, Washington was charismatic and a leader of his troops. Think for a moment about the men who Washington led into battle against the seasoned army of Great Britain. These were not a group of "Be all that you can be" soldiers.
No, this was an all-volunteer army that left homes, farms, businesses and families to fight for freedom. In the truest sense, these soldiers put their lives and everything they held dear on the line with no guarantee the 13 colonies would become the United States of America.
With the end of the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies went to work to create a United States of America. After many years of work, the United States became reality, and there was but one man to lead the country.
Washington was offered the title of king, but declined, giving his countrymen this logic. We just fought a war to purge ourselves of King George III’s tyranny. Now that we have our freedom, why create another monarchy?
Washington agreed to lead the fledgling country. But he felt that the title of president sounded more democratic for the republic.
Washington was not looking for a lifetime job either. Two terms of four years each was precious plenty for him. He never could get the House of Representatives nor the Senate to embrace the idea of term limitations. George knew that after a certain number of years the time would come to step down and let the country prosper under new leadership.
Perhaps Washington’s greatest strength was his ability to recognize that he had weaknesses. Rather than let these weaknesses become an albatross, Washington surrounded himself with people in leadership positions whose strengths made up for his few shortfalls.
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are but two examples of leaders who made the Washington presidency a strong one. Washington welcomed open debate and input on ideas, but in the final analysis he knew that it was his responsibility to make the decision on issues.
So, if you are a business owner, have pride in the position that you hold, but remember to be humble. Use your strength to lead, and when the time is at hand, pass the reins of leadership. Surround yourself with competent and able colleagues who offer honest and timely counsel.
J.C. Smith is a consultant for the Gainesville district office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, 770-531-5681.