I once played a in the musical show “1776” that told the story of the events surrounding the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In several scenes a messenger arrives with dispatches from General George Washington to the congress, lamenting the trials the army was facing and his concerns that they would be defeated by the superior numbers of the British.
George Washington was a citizen soldier who felt it his duty to country to accept the appointment from Congress to head the Continental Army, despite his strong misgivings about his adequacy to lead. The army itself did not exist at that point and the call went out for recruits.
As a leader, Washington stood tall, not only in height, but in the esteem of the troops. It was their confidence in him that drew them to take up arms and fight for the Revolution. The soldiers represented a cross section from farmers to storekeepers to professionals. Many were scantily clad, without shoes, few guns, and an odd assortment of farm implements with which to fight.
Once the first winter arrived the hardships grew as they endured the cold, experienced wide spread disease, and little food. From Washington’s writings we know he experienced times of great anxiety and uncertainty about his leadership and the abilities of the citizen soldiers. What made the difference was that he did not show his concern to the troops.
Washington would regularly make his presence known by riding among the troops to rally their confidence. His calm demeanor had a great influence on them, building their trust in his leadership. His presence motivated them to follow him and the cause he represented even with the hardships they were experiencing. It was this confidence in their leader that sustained them on the freezing winter crossing of the Delaware and the night march to Trenton where they won a decisive victory that marked the turning point in the war.
When local, state, or national leaders are present at disasters there is a calming effect. The power of presence is not so much in the words of encouragement but in the fact that the victims see that the leader knows and understands their need and is working on behalf of the people, even pitching in side by side with them in the recovery efforts. It has been observed that there is less looting and other destructive behavior when a high level leader is present.
Leaders can have the power of presence to impact those who work for them, especially in times of change and challenge. Their presence is powerfully effective in maintaining confidence and trust. Be present and be seen. Be heard, be listening, be appreciative, be attentive, be confident, be positive, be visionary, be a cheer leader, and people will have reason to follow where you lead.
©Dr. Ethan Raath 2012
DR. ETHAN RAATH
Executive Leadership Consultant
Highwire Leadership LLC