3 Things We Can Learn from George Washington about Sales Leadership


George Washington’s leadership qualities of character and skill impress me–inspire me really. At a time when Britain’s “empire on which the sun never sets” ruled over a quarter of the world, Washington led an ill equipped army with little to no support from Congress to a shocking victory over the world’s greatest superpower.

Around the 4th of July, we celebrate the success of the American Revolution and our independence as a nation, here in the United States.  Each year, I crack open my volume of David McCullough’s 1776 and remind myself why I revere this great man, “his excellency”, the “father” of our country.

Leadership Quality #1 – Don’t Make Excuses for Failure.  Embrace Your Constraints and Lead to Victory.

Washington’s army was often called “rabble in arms” because his men lacked experience and had little to no training, equipment, or supplies. How did Washington still manage to win under “less than ideal” circumstances?

As they surrounded Boston, attempting to lay siege in early 1776, Nathaniel Greene, a thirty-three year old brigadier general, described how they lacked even the most basic supplies:

“I wish we had…[gun]powder that we might annoy the enemy…but for want thereof we are obliged to remain idle spectators.”

Later, he commented to a friend in a letter how concerned he was about their prospects “when you consider how raw and undisciplined the troops are in general and what war-like preparations are going on [in] England.

Sound familiar? Does your responsibility to lead your sales team ever feel similar? Perhaps you don’t have the crack account executives you want or all of the amazing tools and training you know your larger competitors have.

Though initially dismayed at the “army” that turned out to fight for him, Washington never let this become an excuse. Exactly the opposite. At Boston, he ended up leading his men in a surprisingly creative bluff that allowed him to take the high ground position and force the British to evacuate Boston. In the end, they took Boston without a fight.

What lesson can we learn?  Don’t spend energy complaining or making excuses. Instead, search for innovative and creative ways to compensate for what you lack in traditional resources. Embrace your constraints and focus your energy on finding a way to win. Washington did it at Boston. You can do it too.

Leadership Quality #2 – Focus on Winning the War, Not the Battles


Have you ever closed a deal that you knew wasn’t right for the client and because of that, it wasn’t right for your company, but did it anyway? Sales leadership often seems so tactical that we sometimes allow ourselves to indulge in short-term thinking and forget we need to take a step back and consider the larger picture.

Washington lost more battles than he won, retreated more often than he engaged the enemy.  He still won the war.

When we need to cut a few prospects off the line that really aren’t the best fit, we should recognize that we’re focusing on winning the war, even though we feel like we’re losing the battle.

As we take our focus away from prospects that aren’t the right fit, more of our energy is focused on acquiring and closing prospects that are. They’ll have a better experience and refer more new business later that will help us win the ‘war’.

Understand your long-term objectives and try to avoid indulging in short-term thinking and decisions that undermine them. Washington’s willingness to retreat saved his resources for key battles. It was his willingness to play the long game that brought him and his team victory.

Leadership Quality #3 – Lead From the Front

Washington crossing the Delaware

One of the qualities I admire most about Washington is his willingness to lead from the front.

“When the Continental Army came upon British regiments in New Jersey in 1777, Washington shouted, ‘Parade with me, my brave fellows,’ and led the charge into enemy lines. His courage and calm in the face of battle was nothing less than astonishing. Thomas Jefferson wrote of him: ‘He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern.’” (from FearlessMen.com)

Be willing to get there early and stay late with your team at the end of the quarter to close those deals. Lead the charge by showing your team how to hunt for and bring in those difficult, but important, large deals. Get into the fray. Get on the phone and coach. Don’t forget how to sell and expect your team to do it for you. There’s a difference between ‘managing’ and ‘leading’.  Don’t push from behind. Where at all possible, lead from the front. You’ll have a better chance at winning and what’s more is that your team will respect you for it and follow you.

I thank God for George Washington. If it hadn’t been for his leadership, where would we be today? Let’s enjoy our time with friends and family this weekend, but when we get back, let’s try to inject more Washington into our leadership.

Happy Independence Day everyone!

For more great content, check out:

5 ways for VP of sales to impress the CEO.

11 tips on delivering a memorable b2b product demo

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