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Vol. 5, No. 8
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102 

© 2007 William A. Cohen, PhD

When I sat down to write this month’s thoughts, I was really torn in two different directions as to what to write about. Just last week I was honored to participate in the first Drucker Society Global Symposium at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. Representatives from more than 10 countries attended along with such major figures as Frances Hesselbein, CEO of the Leader-to-Leader Institute in New York and herself an author and publisher of numerous books on leadership and a personal friend not only of mine, but of Peter’s, Doris Drucker, Peter’s wife, who in her 80’s founded a successful manufacturing company, and now in her 90’s travels the world speaking and carrying on Drucker’s legacy, Dr. Elizabeth Edersheim  who last year wrote The Definitive Drucker, an outstanding book written in collaboration with Peter before he died. There were many many other important leaders and thinkers who spoke, including representatives of Claremont’s famous faculty. These included Professor Joe Maciariello who co-authored the Daily Drucker with him and is even now laboring at updating one of Drucker’s most significant works.

Peter Drucker made such major contributions to all aspects of management that he is recognized worldwide as The Father of Modern Management. Along with his many contributions, he was one of the few management theorists to recognize the importance of contributions of the ethical and effective practices of the U.S. military. Speaking of the Army (although he really meant all branches of our military services) he said: “The Army trains and develops more leaders than do all other institutions together — and with a lower casualty rate.” What Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein was to physics, Drucker was to the social science of modern management. It is no wonder that I received the News Flash above!

However, it was only last month that my article was entitled “The Greatest Management Teacher in the World.” I asked myself: “If Drucker was also the world’s greatest management teacher (which he was) — and since this newsletter is published by the Institute of Leader Arts, who was America’s greatest leader?”  We’ve had a lot of great leaders in this country since 1776. We’ve had great military leaders like Generals Eisenhower, Macarthur, Marshall, Patton or Admirals Nimitz,  Halsey and others during World War II. At a time when the when the nation needed them, they were there, and they saved the country. More recently, we’ve had other Generals like Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell. They too demonstrated great leadership and contributions in time of need and under great stress.

Many might favor U.S. presidents such as John Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan. Others might name labor leaders like Samuel Gompers. Though relatively unknown today, Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor and was its president. It was his idea that unions were simply the labor component of a business, neither superior nor inferior to the management structure. Almost alone among labor leaders he opposed socialism and was the architect of modern management – labor relations in our country. Because of him, while management – labor relations are sometimes strained, they have never reached the point of out and out warfare, and sometimes revolution, seen in other countries. Of course there were also great business leaders. Andrew Carnegie, that great industrialist of the 19th century comes to mind. Carnegie immigrated from Scotland and founded the Carnegie Steel Company. He built the Carnegie Steel Company into the largest and most profitable company in the world. Then in 1901 he sold it and devoted the rest of his life to giving his fortune away to worthwhile causes. Nowadays, we’ve got examples of businessmen like Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, and many others.

Going back in history many would pick Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. When the country was so divided that it went to war with itself, he saved the union and abolished slavery. It cost him his life in the process. There is no doubt that he was a great American leader. There have been so many in our history — it is a tough choice. But for my choice, I go all the way back. Yes, my choice for the greatest American leader is George Washington, like Peter Drucker, he’s known as “the father” — this time of our country.

Washington came through as a great leader at many levels and against impossible odds. He was named General-in-Chief of American forces during the War of Independence. He was a leader fighting against the best and most battle-hardened army in the world: The British Army of King George III. He commanded an untrained ragtag militia of limited term volunteers which he had to build into an army. He never had the resources he needed. His army was frequently starving. His own expertise as overall commander was frequently questioned, not only by Congress, but by his senior generals, several of whom saw themselves as better qualified and were ambitious to be named supreme commander in his stead. Some of his most trusted subordinates conspired against him. Congress broke promise after promise to him and he could never even rely on the various American colonies keeping to their commitments for men and resources to bolster his army. Talk about not getting “backing” from your boss – Washington got almost nothing from anyone.

Even his most favored protégé let him down. Washington sent this man where he was most needed and where he felt a senior subordinate general might falter. This was a brilliant young brigadier general who risked himself time and time again and through raw courage frequently saved his superiors from disaster. Washington recommended this young man to the Continental Congress for promotion to major general several times. Instead, Congress promoted his incompetent bosses. Finally, he was promoted. Unfortunately this young officer and trusted confident had a character flaw. By the time of his promotion, in his frustration at being overlooked for so long despite his contributions, he conspired with the enemy. He was going to turn over the important fortifications at West Point and switch sides. Before this could happen, he was uncovered. He became known as the most infamous traitor in American history. his name was Benedict Arnold.

With all of this going on, it is not surprising that Washington lost more battles than he won. But he persevered and he retained the respect of the American soldier. He was a strong disciplinarian, but he shared every risk and hardship with them. At a time when many senior commanders on both sides would leave their troops in the field, even in the cold of winter, while they lived in warmth and comfort in a nearby town, Washington shivered with his men. Finally, despite all of this Washington developed into a superior strategist. He beat the experienced generals fair and square on the field of battle. Finally, at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender his forces, a major part of the British Army in America, and the war was over. Cornwallis ordered that his band play an fifth and drum tune at the surrender ceremonies. It was entitled “The World Turned Upside Down.”

The war was over, but Washington’s problems were not. Despite repeated promises by the Continental Congress, Washington’s officers hadn’t been paid in months. Finally, they’d had enough. they went to Washington and asked him to lead them in a march on Congress to disband it. They wanted Washington to assume the title of “King” or “Dictator.” That wasn’t so far fetched. It was typical of those who led successful revolutions to do something like this in those days. Washington would have none of it, but it wasn’t a situation that was so easy to handle. The war was over and this potential rebellion included virtually all key leaders in his army. The would-be rebels invited him to attended a general meeting to make plans for their march on Congress. Washington agreed to attend only if he could speak to the entire group to dissuade them from this disastrous action. They agreed. Washington was the most popular man in the country after winning America’s independence. He spoke eloquently to the assembled officers. He reminded them of why they had fought so hard for their independence. He warned them of the consequences of their planned actions, not just to themselves, but to the country. He told them that it could throw the country into civil war. He tried to persuade them not to do this every way he could.

He was unsuccessful. Then in a final action, Washington pulled out all the stops. Americans were not so casual about things or appearances in those days. Washington could not read without the use of his reading glasses. But he was never seen in public wearing them. It would be somewhat akin to his appearing in public in his underwear today. He reached into his coat, took out his glasses and put them on. Looking out over his audience through his glasses he said, “I have grown old in your service . . . and now I am growing blind. He slowly walked down the ramp and off the platform from which he had been speaking.

There was dead silence among his officers. No one said a thing. Finally, someone said, “Oh what the devil, maybe General Washington is right.” They voted to give Congress one more chance. They did not march. Washington’s action saved the country even as it was being born. Later, Washington served two terms as the very first U.S. president.

Some years ago I investigated the basic principles that drove great leaders in all endeavors.  I call them the “The Stuff of heroes: The 8 Universal Laws of Leadership.” These are:

  1. Maintain Absolute Integrity
  2. Know Your Stuff
  3. Declare Your Expectations
  4. Show Uncommon Commitment
  5. Expect Positive Results
  6. Take Care of Your People
  7. Put Duty Before Self
  8. Get Out in Front

Most successful leaders practice a majority of these laws. George Washington practiced all of them.



William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAFR, Ret.



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Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

                                                                                                            – George Washington


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