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Washington found key to motivation

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in Leaders & Managers

It was Dec. 31, 1776, just five days after Gen. George Washington led 2,400 troops across the icy Delaware River in the dead of night to launch a surprise attack at Trenton, N.J.  It seemed the tide of the war was about to turn.

And yet every soldier’s enlistment was up the next day on Jan. 1, 1777. None of them intended to stay a minute past that deadline. Without soldiers, the revolution would fail.

Washington gathered his men on a ridge along the Assunpink Creek, with the Delaware River to the left. From his white steed, he made them an offer he believed they couldn’t refuse--a $10 bonus to stay a few more months. He nodded to the drummer boy to begin a rousing drum roll, then asked all who were in to step forward.

No one moved.

Washington turned his horse around and left. Minutes later, he returned to his men. His overconfidence was gone, and this time he spoke with his men with familiarity and affection, looking them in the eye:

“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear.

“You have worn yourselves out with fatigue and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.”

He said he wished he could pass the burden to someone else, but there was no one else. He asked them to think beyond themselves to the greater good. He said they could change the world.

Again, the drum roll began. One man stepped forward, then another, and another, until every man had committed to the cause.

Washington learned that day what few business leaders truly believe: Nothing else—not even money—motivates like the opportunity to define and unite behind a common purpose.

-- Adapted from The Orange Revolution, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.

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