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Raised as a Virginia gentleman, Washington was admired by his peers for not only his courage in battle but also for his leadership through compromise and decisive action.

There are many of Washington's life lessons that you can apply to your life to live like Washington and be a true leader.

1. Rules of Civility

When he was about 14 years old, as part of his schooling, Washington wrote down 110 rules from Francis Hawkins' The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.  These lessons, some serious, some humorous,  stayed with him throughout his life and greatly form the leader that he would become.  

You can explore and vote on your favorite rule of civility or purchase a commemorative hardbound copy from our gift shop.

See the Rules

2. Resign Power

Washington is the only president to be elected unanimously.  During his life, there are two key moments where he showed his restraint for political power.

  • After the Revolutionary War, he resigned his military commission at the then capital in Annapolis.  Returning the power of the U.S. military to civilian control.
  • At the end of his second term, Washington set the precedent to not seek a third-term ensuring continuity of power in the office of the president.  This action would later be affirmed in the 22nd amendment of the Constitution.

Washington's role in giving up power ensured America would have a strong democracy, governed by the people, not a monarch or dictator.

Washington Resigning his Commission in Annapolis

3. Be Open to Change, Listen to Others

Many of our founding fathers were best known for their strong beliefs and persuasive oratory skills.  Washington, on the other hand, was best known, and respected, for his ability to observe and listen.

He took in advise from others and weighed it against his personal moral beliefs.  His skill as a thoughtful and decisive leader was perhaps the largest reason why he was unanimously elected president.

Strong held beliefs were also open to change.  Washington's personal views on slavery best illustrate how Washington would alter his views based on personal experiences and debate among those from different backgrounds.

Washington with Lafayette on the Piazza

4. Dance, Dance, Dance!

Washington once described dancing as “so agreeable and innocent an amusement.” First-hand accounts say he was extremely good at it – and was always quite the center of attention.

His Excellency (George Washington) and Mrs. Greene (wife of Nathaniel Greene) danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.

– General Nathanael Greene to Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, Middle Brook, New Jersey, March 19, 1779.

Learn More About Dancing with Washington

5. Be a Life-Long Reader

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the Continental Congress, Washington never attended college.  Private tutors and possibly a local school in Fredericksburg provided the young man with the only formal instruction he received.  Yet Washington became a master of military tactics, political theory, literature, and agriculture.  

He accomplished this by amassing a library of over 1,200 titles covering a variety of subjects.

Digital Exhibit: Take Note!  Washingon the Reader

6. Practice Good Penmanship

Good penmanship was an essential skill for businessmen, politicians, and merchants.

Writing is the First Step, and Essential in furnishing out the Man of Business

-English teacher and author Thomas Watts, 1716

Business manuals throughout the eighteenth century tied good handwriting directly to a merchant’s reputation and credit.

Washington's penmanship was immaculate as demonstrated in this letter to his British creditors Robert Cary and Company in 1762.

George Washington to Robert Cary and Company, June 20, 1762

7. Practice Athletics, Be Healthy

As a young man, George Washington faced many battles with illness including a bout of tuberculous and smallpox.  Washington's father died at 48 and many other family members died at a young age.

Washington strongly believed in exercise and athleticism as ways to prevent disease.  He took part in almost every sport of his day: archery, fox hunting, swimming, and wrestling.

Learn More about Washington the Sportsman

8. Be Creative - Innovate

Though we think of Benjamin Franklin as the perpetual inventor of early America, Washington was no slouch himself.  Despite not having a formal college education, Washington's innovative mind created unique inventions such as a 16-sided barn for processing wheat and the drill plow for planting the seed while plowing.

Washington was also an early adopter of technology.  In 1791 he upgraded his gristmill to Oliver Evans' Automated Gristmill, United States' patent number three.  Washington also owned two unique chairs, a fan chair, and a swiveling "uncommon chair".  He also owned his own copy press for duplicate letters.

9. Take Risks and Don't Fear Failure

Washington often took risks that didn't work out in his favor. In fact, as a General, he lost more battles than he won.

As a major in the British army, he started a global war through failed diplomacy.  During the Revolutionary War, he made a daring second crossing after his successful battle of Trenton on Christmas Eve.  He also took risks deploying spies and espionage tactics, and he took a large gamble on a little unknown tactic of inoculation to prevent the spread of smallpox at Valley Forge.  

As a businessman, he backed the failed venture of the Potomac Company to advance westward expansion via the Potomac River.

Yet throughout all of this Washington kept going, determined to succeed.

Illustration by William H. Bond of what Matildaville (near Great Falls) would have become once the canal was in place. (National Geographic Society)

10. Attempt Dental Hygiene

Washington probably has the most notorious set of teeth in the world.  Despite the rumors, they were not made of wood but rather human, cow, and horse teeth, ivory, lead-tin copper, and silver. 

Probably less known, Washington did actually own a toothbrush and attempted to maintain good dental hygiene.  He would brush with tooth powder, scrape his tongue of bacteria, and use mouth wash.  Yet despite all of these efforts Washington lost his first tooth at the age of 24 and was wearing a full set of dentures by age 57.

Learn More About Washington's Tooth Troubles

George Washington's Dental hygiene traveling set (W-615/A-D)

Do You Think You Have What It Takes To Be Washington?

Step into the boots of General Washington in the Be Washington Interactive Theater.

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