Every leader has a certain degree of ambition. Yet, when is the line crossed from ambition to selfishness or from confidence to cockiness? Almost all organizations have the gunners ready to do anything to advance their position in hierarchy and status, however the best leaders may not always be the first ones with their hands raised. What else besides ambition play into the role?

Leadership Skills of George Washington

June of 1775, George Washington just finished his speech accepting commander position of the Continental Congress. Numerous factors lead him to an obvious choice. The decision for Washington to lead was “politically essential.”  The appointment of a Virginian, the most populous and wealthiest colony to the cause, would be advantageous. Washington was the most influential and qualified Virginian. Secondly, as John Adam eloquently joked, Washington was always selected by “deliberate bodies” because he was always the tallest man in the room — he was physically majestic.

Benamin Rush, the Philadelphia physician put it: “He has so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him to be a general and a solder from among ten thousand people.”

Washington made a very strong first impression, but where was his mind around leadership and his leadership skills?

His acceptance speech made two insightful points: he did not feel qualified for the position and that he would lead with no pay. Here are a few lines from his speech: “I beg it may be remembered by every Gentm in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I (am) honoured with.”

Even the most trustworthy individual may read these lines as quality PR and veneer humbleness. However Washington’s private letters to his wife, brother and brother in-law add supporting evidence.

In private he wrote:

“I am no Imbarked on a tempestuous Ocean from whence, perhaps, no friendly harbour is to be found….It is an honour I wished to avoid…I can answer but for three things: a firm belief of the justice of our Cause — close attention to the prosecution of it — and the strictest Integrity — If these cannot supply the places of Ability & Experience, the cause will suffer & more than probably my character along with it, as reputation derives its principle support from success.”

When it was all said and done “Washington need to convince himself that the summons came from outside rather than inside his own soul.” Washington’s decision to to take command of the Continental army most shaped his place in history.

Washington was a leader who had considerable trouble acknowledging his own ambitions – his leadership skills were uniquely uncocky.  He rarely promoted his superiority, hesitated at the grandest of the tasks, and constantly contemplated the consequences. However, his name and legacy is carved in the history books forever because of his decision, execution, and “summons that came from outside” and not just from within.