- George Washington was a great president because he knew how to communicate effectively with fellow leaders and the American people.
- His ability to cast vision, work behind the scenes, show occasional vulnerability, and keep his word built an unimpeachable reputation that no one could question.
Washington’s integrity and morality permeated all of his communications and gave him the credibility to be a great leader of a fledgling democracy.
George Washington was the first President of the United States, and he has always been regarded as one of the best. After his second term as President, the American people wanted to make Washington a king, even though that would go against every principle of democracy on which the country was founded.
This is how great the people thought Washington’s leadership was, but he was wise enough to decline and retire to his home in Mount Vernon. Washington’s communication skills had a great deal to do with the public’s perception of him. Here are some of the skills he used to help create and lead what is now recognized as one of the great democracies in world history.
Cast Your Vision
There were many times during the formation of the United States when the vision of the people seemed to falter. The gears of government turned slowly, and it was hard to be patient while details were hammered out and debate settled about the best way to establish the new democratic republic. As a founding father and then the nation’s first leader, Washington had to keep the vision for America constantly before the people, including the other leaders that surrounded him.
Washington’s vision for a free country where people could choose their religion, profession, and other aspects of their lives was present in all of his letters and speeches to the people. And it made a huge difference in some sticky situations.
At one point, when Washington and his army were waiting in cold, snowy Newburgh, New York, for the final peace treaty with England to be signed, the army grew tired of the process. The fledgling Congress had not yet paid them for much of their previous service, and they began to consider a mutiny that would have left Washington and the nation unprotected at a critical juncture.
When Washington got wind of the soldiers’ intention to have a meeting without him about what they should do, he took swift action to cancel the meeting and set up his own. He spoke to the men passionately about the importance of their work for the country and promised to hound Congress on their behalf. He evoked their “unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings,” and succeeded in encouraging them to continue to support him and the people through the difficult period.
Do The Work
While Washington may be well-known now for his speeches and writings, he was wise enough to know that some of the most important communication happens behind the scenes, one on one, or with small groups of people who can take your ideas to their larger circle and influence them. When important meetings like the Constitutional Convention took place, Washington spoke to the entire assembly when needed but spent most of his time “lobbying” individuals and small groups to move in the direction he saw as best for his country.
For brands, some of the most critical work can be responding to reviews online, providing quality customer service, and making it right when things go wrong for a customer, which happens even with a great product. Discontent can be a louder voice than satisfaction in many cases, and marketers need to understand that large-scale ads and campaigns will only be successful if the one-on-one work is happening, too.
Set the Tone
People respond to an authoritative tone, but not so much that it becomes condescending or, even worse, scolding. It’s not easy to retain credibility while also showing that you can relate to those under your care and leadership.
While Washington was generally stoic and non-emotional, he was able to strike a passionate tone when he needed to convince his audience to go along with his plans–plans that he genuinely believed were best for his country and its betterment. Projecting that expert-but-relatable tone is not an easy thing to do, but it can mean the difference between customers willing to give your product a chance and those that won’t.
While Washington was usually stoic, he did show enough of his human and vulnerable side to connect with his audience. Apparently, Washington caused grown men–soldiers in his army–to cry when he took out his spectacles to read the notes of his speech and told them, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”
It is still not known whether Washington deliberately used the moment to play on the sympathies of his audience or whether it was a complete accident that the men were so moved by his vulnerability, but it worked. And, in 2022, the public as a whole is even more moved when media figures or the team behind their favorite products shows their human side to connect with the audience.
Keep Your Word
For a flash-in-the-pan, once and gone product, it may be enough to have a snappy ad campaign, but over time, success in marketing takes keeping your word. Washington knew that his leadership rested on this simple principle. After he spoke to his officers and averted the mutiny they had planned, he wrote to Congress tirelessly, asking them to pay the soldiers’ back wages and pension that they so deserved for their service.
Washington’s determination paid off after some time, and the soldiers were paid. Washington kept his word, which only added to the American people’s reverence for him and his place in history as one of the great presidents. Like Washington, marketers that keep their word about a product’s performance and back it up with consistent customer service will also gain a reputation that history will not be able to take away from them.
Like Washington, we help make our clients great communicators, getting out the word about their product with integrity and authenticity. If you’d like to see how it works, download a sample Content Marketing Plan here.