Leadership Tip #1: Put Your Troops First

Leadership Tip #1: Put Your Troops First

The best leadership tips often come from the stories of great leaders. In this story You’ll see how George Washington’s leadership tip was to put his troops first.

Travel with me, if you will, to 1777, to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  George Washington has just suffered another brutal defeat by the British Army, who have conquered Philadelphia.

Washington’s men are starving and freezing to death during a bitter winter, while the British army are enjoying the theaters, restaurants, and company of the lovely young ladies of Philadelphia.

Due to enemies in the US Congress, Washington has been fighting a war without any funding. He’s been labeled as a “loser and weak general” and so as to hasten his demise, Congress has denied any additional funding for weapons, training, food, and basic human needs.

His troops are showing the strain. Disease is rampant, as is desertion.

So what does Washington do? He focuses on safety.

Say what? How can a focus on safety win a war? Stay tuned, and I think you’ll see….

Washington convinces several Senators to visit him at Valley Forge. They are moved with pity at the sight of men who have no shoes or coats, freezing to death in the cold. These men have no food nor training. Weapons are whatever they managed to scrape together from their farms, many of them simply bringing their pitchforks.

With this catharsis, the Senators overrule Washington’s enemies and money finally begins to flow to the General.

How will he spend it?

First, he gets warm clothing, and shelter for his men.  Next he focuses on food for his army.And then he ensures they have weapons that are at least equal to the British.

And then? He begins to train them. He brings in a Prussian General who starts regular drills with the Revolutionary Army.

What happens? Against all odds,  Washington, the “loser” general, becomes a winner.  The rest is history.

But why did he start with food and clothing?  I mean come on, this was war. People die.

Wouldn’t the most logical place to start be the weapons people were to fight with? Maybe buy a couple of predator drones? (oops sorry, those aren’t invented yet General Washington).

The would be the obvious “left brain” answer. And many managers would agree with you.  But the key to this problem lies deep within your right brain, not your left. And that is where George Washington looked.  How did he solve his problem?

For that answer, let’s move travel forward in time a bit, to 1943, where we’ll visit Abraham Maslow, who has just authored his paper, “A theory of human motivation“, which today is widely accepted as part of the Holy Grail of Human Behavior.

To see what it looks like, head to Google images and search for “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs“.

If you’re reading this online at my website, greenbeanleadership.com, I’ve included a copy of the chart for your convenience.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In his original model, Maslow divides human needs into 5 layers in a pyramid shape. The idea is that the most basic needs are at the bottom of the pyramid, and when those needs are met, we move to the next level up.

The first, most basic level of human needs are the physiological ones. Maslow lists these as breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, etc.  Think of these as the foundation of the building of human development, the Ground Floor, if you will, by the way, this floor is named “Physiological”.

Now let’s hop on Maslow’s elevator and step off on the first floor. The first thing you notice here is a big sign that says “SAFETY”.   Huh????  Say what???  I can already hear your groans and see your eyes rolling. Not another boring plug for safety, please!!!  I will grant you this: safety is boring until someone dies.

As Maslow shows, after physiological needs are met,  Safety is the next most basic need we all have. Security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and our property.

So here’s what Washington did. First, he concentrated on the Ground Floor his troops needed…the physiological ones. He got them food, clothes, and shelter.

Then  he moved on to help meet their safety needs, providing them training and tools to help them improve their chances of winning on the battlefield.

This was a profound act of genius. It came straight out of Washington’s right brain, was counter-intuitive, and completely aligned with Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Valley Forge was a “tipping point” in the war against Britain.

Washington knew that if he met the basic needs of his men, they would respond by sticking with his rag tag army and helping him win the war.

George Washington was a servant leader. What is that? Since the 1960’s, research has proven that servant leadership enables high performing teams while old school “command and control, my-way-or-the-highway” leadership destroys interdependence and discretionary effort.

We teach these principles in our Leadership Development Workshops.

In my next video post, I’ll explore Servant Leadership more deeply and the symbiotic relationship between safety excellence, stellar financial performance, and servant leaders.

Just google for “5 Lessons on how leadership affects safety: Servant Leadership 101”

If you want to dig deeper on this subject, head out to www.greenbeanbook.com

and pick up a copy of my book, “Green Beans & Ice Cream: The remarkable power of positive reinforcement.”


More leadership articles are available here and at the links below.

1). Employee Recognition Is As Important As A Paycheck (https://greenbeanleadership.com/employee-recognition-is-as-important-as-paycheck/)

( https://youtu.be/Z-aIQ3TqMTU)


2). How To Change Employee Behavior




3). Leadership Development Systems (https://greenbeanleadership.com/leadership-development-systems/)



4). How To Get Results From Employees




5). Positive Reinforcement Systems For Leadership Development




6). How To Design A Business For Success




7). Leadership Development Workshops




8). Green Beans And Ice Cream Book





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