I've learned business and life lessons from two great men born this month: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their fundamental wisdom remains pertinent.
Whether as a general or as president, Washington knew plenty about leadership. The following passage in a 1775 letter talks about how to treat the people who have to follow you into battle. The advice holds up well in a business setting: "Be strict in your discipline; that is, to 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. Impress upon the mind of every man, from first to the lowest, the importance of the cause, and what it is they are contending for."
Thomas Jefferson wrote an evaluation of Washington in 1795: "He errs as other men do, but he errs with integrity. His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order. ... His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known."
Washington had financial moxie as well. As commander in chief, he refused a regular salary and worked for expenses only. He came out substantially better that way -- my kind of guy! Offered the presidency, he volunteered to work for expenses again, but this time Congress insisted he have a fixed salary.
Washington was one of the richest men in America. At his death, his holdings were worth about $500,000, and included 33,000 acres, $25,000 worth of stocks, 640 sheep, 329 cows, 42 mules and 20 workhorses.
Not true for Lincoln. He failed in business, lost numerous elections, lost his sweetheart and had a nervous breakdown. But he never quit. He kept trying and became, many say, our greatest president. As with so many great achievers, Lincoln faced numerous challenges. In fact, he was forced to borrow money for train fare to his inauguration.
Lincoln once was criticized for referring to the Confederates in kind terms. The female critic asked him how he could speak generously of his enemies when he should rather destroy them. "Why, madam," replied Lincoln, "do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?"
Most of us know of Lincoln's dry wit and wisdom. On persistence, he said, "I do the best I can; I mean to keep going. If the end brings me out all right, then what is said against me won't matter. If I'm wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right won't make a difference."
We get a real insight into Lincoln's stand on character with this gem: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
Could you pass the test?
Mackay's Moral: I cannot tell a lie: We can -- and should -- learn plenty from these two presidents.