By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to help you foster greater integrity. Reading time: 3:58.
Pull out a dollar bill from your purse/wallet or pocket. Take a look at the photo of George Washington and realize that there’s even more currency in that dollar than you think. And it has nothing to do with the national debt.
But it does have everything to do with your ability to cash in on your leadership. And you can take that to the bank. At least artist Gilbert Stuart thought so.
Stuart was one of the first artists to paint dignitaries with a sole focus on their face, up close and personal. No palatial background. No prestigious clothing. No fine furniture. No sense of privilege or prominence. Just the face.
Call Gilbert Stuart the Facebook guru of the 18th Century. His focus on the face of George Washington became the most circulated piece of art in the world–thanks to the millions of George Washington dollar bills in circulation since 1869.
Ever since then–four years after the Civil War– we look to the face of a the chief executive officer to reflect the values of that organization. We look to the president to literally serve as the face of that organization.
You can’t go more than two or three pages into an Annual Report without coming face to face with the chief executive officers of that organization.
Check your Face Book account right now. Or your corporate ID badge. Or the photo on your driver’s licenses. Is your photo flashing the leadership message you intended –at the speed of light –visually? Or are you forced to putter along at a mere 761.2 miles per hour — the speed of sound– in telling/selling your leadership message.
At any rate, the face of the nation is clearly imbedded in the face of George Washington on the dollar bill. Stern, disciplined, independent minded. And even a bit feisty –at least according to the story that Abraham Lincoln liked to tell about the portrait of George Washington. The story goes like this:
One of the leaders of the American Revolution visited England after the war. His host could not get over the fact that George Washington led the former British Colonies in beating the British, the largest military in the world. To have a little fun at the expense of his American guest, the British host hung a print of George Washington’s stern portrait in his outhouse.
The Buck Stops Here
Finally the host couldn’t contain his curiosity. He knew his guest must have seen the portrait in the outhouse. The British host wanted to know what his American guest thought of the picture of Washington. “It is most appropriately hung,” the American replied. “Nothing ever made the British shit like the sight of George Washington.”
Whether it was the ill-fitting wooden dentures reflected in his pained expression or a determined message of stoic responsibility and fortitude he exercised at Valley Forge in the winter, George Washington’s face spoke long before his words.
George Washington’s face reflected the rugged individualism that America would foster, the sense of we can pick ourselves up from the bootstraps and reach out and grab the America Dream. No matter what our background, our heritage or economic status. You can almost hear George Washington emphatically declaring on his dollar bill picture: “The buck stops here.”
Of course another president — Harry S. Truman in 1946–would be credited with that statement 150 years after Gilbert Stuart’s brush capture the meaning of the phrase in the piercing eyes and pursing lips of George Washington’ s portrait in 1796.
Stuart’s full-standing portrait of George Washington sends a completely different message to a different audience — Europeans. This portrait was specifically created as a gift for an English supporter of the American Revolution and focuses as much on the background as on the individual.
But instead of embellishing the art with a sense of privilege and prominence, the background reflects the birth of a new democracy. On the table is a quill pen and a rolled up document, hinting at the founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And notice that Washington stands more as a orator defining America more than simply defending her.
But nothing speaks more loudly and clearly as the face of George Washington we know on our dollar bills– a portrait known more formally as the Athenaeum face profile (vs. the Lansdowne full-standing portrait).
What’s in your wallet? Does your corporate portrait/ photo say to others about you and your organization–at 670.6 million miles per hour — at the speed of light? With or without your teeth?
Increase your face value to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
SUBSCRIBE: Have a Leadership Mint delivered to your E-mail every business day. It’s free. Just click the SIGN ME UP box in the upper left column.