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Then, unexpectedly, he drew out a spectacle case from his pocket. Few officers had ever seen him put on spectacles. Usually a severely formal man, he said in a voice softened with apology: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in service of my country.
The deep, human, emotional power of that moment can hardly be described. It electrified officers. Here was their commander who had never taken a furlough during his eight years of command, who had faced storms of musketry fire, who through his daring and intelligence had kept Army in tact in what most of world thought was a lost cause, here was George Washington modestly asking his officers to bear with him in an all-too-human failing. It was an astonishing turning point.
As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, wrote in his journal, "There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to most studied oratory. It forced its way to heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye."
After Washington left hut, officers unanimously voted to "continue to have unshaken confidence in justice of Congress and their country ...." The result was that Continental Army disbanded without incident after War formally ended a few months later and thereby set in motion peaceful events that led to creation of Constitution.
Without Washington's intervention, America may very well have become a kind of banana republic, at mercy of thousands of armed and angry soldiers and their officers. And it wasn't his speech that did it, it was a Leadership Talk.
Washington's Talk is a lesson for all leaders: The best way to communicate an idea is to bundle it in a human being. If you can't feel it, you can't lead it, and they won't do it.
2005 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at www.actionleadership.com