As entrepreneurs, we're always looking for ways to learn, grow, and optimize. We read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, take courses, seek mentors, and model ourselves after those we admire, both personally and professionally. We learn by doing and, sometimes, by failing.
Over time, we adopt rules, habits, and phrases that guide us toward the goals we have set for ourselves, helping us to become the type of people we want to be, and for our businesses to follow suit.
George Washington had his own set of guiding principles, called the Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior. While he didn't write them entirely by himself--they're based on French Jesuit rules from many years before--these rules were the ones he lived by to both earn respect from his peers and to ensure he gave it to others.
Several of Washington's 110 rules, in particular, provide useful guidance for budding entrepreneurs:
6. Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
As entrepreneurs, we're often in hustle mode, and we may not even notice the pace at which others around us are moving. Washington notes the importance on taking cues from your guests and peers on when to begin, end, hold your tongue, and move on.
10. When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.
Our first president knew that body language sent a powerful message to others, so he recommended sitting tall and strong, avoiding fidgeting and keeping and open and confident stance during meetings and conversations.
22. Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
We all have competitors we might enjoy "beating" or a former boss you've been waiting to prove wrong, but recognize that your success is not always dependent on someone else's failure. Focus on your own strengths and accomplishments, instead of rooting for or delighting in someone else's shortcomings.
35. Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.
We're all busy. Efficient communication is of the essence, even more so in the present day, when there's more content than ever to consume. Minimize unnecessary meetings, emails and calls, and use bullets points, agendas and summaries to make communications as quick and easily understood as possible.
41. Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Professes; it Savours of arrogance.
Everyone brings different experience to the table, and it behooves you to recognize the value that others bring. You don't need to be an expert in everything when you rely on a network of well-informed colleagues, experts and mentors. Respect individuals on your team for their expertise, and be careful not to overestimate your experience or overstep your bounds.
56. Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'is better to be alone than in bad Company.
As the saying goes, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and Washington is cautioning you to choose them widely. Surrounding yourself with supportive, motivated, intelligent and hardworking individuals will greatly increase your chance of entrepreneurial success.
82. Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.
In business, the concept of "under-promise and over-deliver" is pervasive, but this rule from Washington shows that it's not new. Take time to manage the commitments you have and adjust when necessary to ensure that you're fulfilling the promises you've made. It's better to reliably be all that you promised than to unreliably try to be everything to everyone.
110. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
in your quest for greatness, be sure that you don't lose sight of what's important to you and who you are. Don't leave a trail of deceit, broken relationships, or unethical behavior in your wake.
Read the full Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior for Washington's wisdom on everything from how to properly greet guests to the most polite way to slice bread.