George Washington was arguably one of the greatest leaders in American history. His clear morality, unparalleled discipline, and strong vision for the future helped him to become one of the Founding Fathers, and first President of the United States. We can learn a lot from his leadership, and especially by studying his quotes about leadership.
Here are our favorite 30 George Washington quotes about leadership, each with a brief explanation of how you can apply the quote to your life.
1. Leaders choose the company they keep.
“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
Leadership calls for the wisdom to discern which people deserve your company. Leaders need to keep friends who are good for them.
2. Discipline is one of the ingredients to success.
“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”
Discipline is a learnable quality, and one that leaders must possess in order to succeed. It’s about being laser-focused towards achieving a goal.
3. A leader values the meaning of friendship.
“Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”
Leaders appreciate the true value of friendship, which is one that survives the test of time, distance, and any other challenges.
4. Leaders take responsibility.
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
Being accountable for your own decisions makes you a more credible leader. Accept that you might sometimes make choices that lead to a negative outcome and never run from it, rather, make things right the second the time if given another chance.
5. Choose the ones you trust with sensitive information.
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
Being a leader grants you the opportunity to test your people and learn who you can trust. Having a few you can trust is better than a handful of headaches and misery.
6. A disciplined soldier is better than an uncivilized army.
“Nothing can be more hurtful to the service, than the neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army the superiority over another.”
One of the hardest parts of conquering leadership is the early stage—shaping your followers towards the path you create. A successful team or army is not determined solely by the number of participants, but the amount of perseverance and discipline in reaching a common goal.
7. Seek the truth
“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.”
Information, and the truth, wants to be free. Dishonesty is likely to only cause your character future harm.
8. What happened in the past stays in the past—unless it is something useful for the future.
“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”
If there’s one thing to pack as you continue your journey, it is not the fears of enduring a traumatic loss or mistake. Rather, you should learn from that experience so you are better prepared for next time.
9. Think of what your actions may cost you.
“Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.”
Make good judgments and try to foresee what the aftermath will be for every action that you do. Taking questionable shortcuts is a surefire way to cause yourself mental hardship.
10. Honesty and integrity are virtues worth working towards.
“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
Aim to know yourself better: to grasp your strengths, understand your weaknesses, and determine how to embody more integrity and honesty.
11. Be humble even when you are given high leadership positions.
“But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”
Leaders are oftentimes attributed more credit and superhuman traits than they deserve. Try not to let it go to your head, and stay humble.
12. Harmony is a goal worth striving for.
“Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”
Seek harmony with other leaders. Hear their side and discover how their thinking differs and learn from it. examine the way they lead and assimilate all the wisdom they bestow at you.
13. Happiness is a state of mind.
“Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind, than on the externals in the world.”
Always believe that you can surpass any circumstance through your willpower to overcome physical problems. Finding happiness within is another challenge to overcome mentally.
14. Leadership comes with great responsibilities.
“Government is not reason and it is not eloquence. It is force! Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
A great leader perpetually considers the welfare of his people, and doesn’t act recklessly.
15. A great leader knows the value of culture.
“To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”
Promoting and cultivating culture and traditions is just as important in a company as it is in a country.
16. Be a just and fair leader.
“Require nothing unreasonable of your officers and men, but see that whatever is required be punctually complied with. Reward and punish every man according to his merit, without partiality or prejudice; hear his complaints; if well founded, redress them; if otherwise, discourage them, in order to prevent frivolous ones. Discourage vice in every shape, and impress upon the mind of every man, from the first to the lowest, the importance of the cause, and what it is they are contending for.”
Treat your followers with impartiality and don’t play favorites. Encourage exceptional work, while discouraging the bad, and you’ll end up with a team you can be proud of.
17. Listen to people before making judgement.
“A man’s intentions should be allowed in some respects to plead for his actions.”
No matter how clouded your mind is of the situation at hand, always give the benefit of the doubt. Make sure to listen and balance all sides before making judgement and deciding what action to take.
18. Cool headed discussion often trumps passionate disagreement.
“Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.”
Fight for what you think is right, provided it is supported by facts and only after you have listened to facts provided by other parties involved. Know that everyone’s opinion matter, and if you find someone’s version of the truth wrong, discuss your reasons.
19. Act to the best of your judgment and nothing less.
“I shall not be deprived of a comfort in the worst event, if I retain a consciousness of having acted to the best of my judgment.”
You’re the one who has to live with the outcome of your decisions and actions, so best that you think carefully about your moral standpoint before committing to action.
20. Everyone has their obligation and responsibility to the society they live in.
“Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.”
Once you step out the door, you have to think about how your actions affect other people. Without this give and take, our social structures break down.
21. Taking responsibility increases your chances of success.
“99% of failures come from people who make excuses.”
Many people make excuses for their failures: “it wasn’t my fault, because…” This kind of attitude shows a lack of taking responsibility, something that no one wants on their team.
22. Practice humility, despite your accomplishments or wealth.
“A man ought not to value himself of his achievements or rare qualities of wit, much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.”
Do not look at yourself highly just because you are crowned a leader. Humble yourself every step you take, socialize and know your people to comprehend their needs, and acknowledging the help of others in your successes.
23. The title of leader is just a word; a true leader doesn’t need a title to lead.
“Remember that it is the actions, and not the commission, that make the officer, and that there is more expected from him, than the title.“
It is not your title that makes you a good leader, rather the qualities and traits that you possess.
24. Influence is important.
“The great mass of our Citizens require only to understand matters rightly, to form right decisions.”
A strong leader is one who can influence their followers via debate and discussion, to help them see their point of view.
25. Outer appearance does not demonstrate one’s inner character.
“A person who is anxious to be a leader of the fashion, or one of the first to follow it, will certainly appear in the eyes of judicious men to have nothing better than a frequent change of dress to recommend him to notice.“
Getting caught up with and outward appearances often causes one to discount the importance of character and internal traits.
26. Be compassionate in everything that you do.
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”
Put yourself in the position of those who cry for help for you to know what to offer. Devote your heart and sympathy to help those in different positions than yourself.
27. A leader needs to be able to rely on his team.
“It is absolutely necessary… for me to have persons that can think for me, as well as execute orders.“
You may have what it takes to do everything yourself. However, to do anything of consequence, a team is necessary. The leaders is the one to systematize the distribution of work amongst his members and supervise the output they produce.
28. Choose your acquaintances.
“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
Being in the company of people with bad attitudes or questionable morals is arguably worse than being alone. Choose the people you hang out with wisely.
29. Consider morality and what is ‘good’ when deciding on your leadership goals.
“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
When a leader helps his team act with integrity and morality, the result is satisfaction and happiness. People want to be a part of something that has meaning, and is ‘good’.
30. Leaders are conscientious.
“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Because conscientious leaders have a ‘higher’ purpose, they are able to find reserves to work harder, better face setbacks, and be confident about their plans.
What was your favorite George Washington quote? Let us know in the comments!