No One Succeeds Alone: Revolutionary War Aides-de-Camps and Today’s Revolutionary Assistants

Whenever you’re in doubt about the huge impact, critical support, and strategic execution that Executive Assistants and Force Multipliers provide, just take a minute and think about virtually every successful politician, celebrity, business leader, founder, athlete, military leader, or CEO. More often than not they had an assistant by their side. 

No one succeeds alone. And usually top leaders succeed with a Force Multiplier

In honor of the birth of America 248 years ago, I thought we’d go back into history a bit and take a look at an interesting position seen throughout the Revolutionary War – aides-de-camp. While the role was particularly prominent during the war, the position of aide-de-camp has a much longer history and is still seen today in different forms in both the public and private sector. 

The History of Aides-de-Camp 

The position of aide-de-camp dates back to at least the early modern period in European military tradition; however, the role was first introduced as a formal position in the 17th century. 

The term “aide-de-camp” originates from the French language, meaning “camp assistant.” The concept was formalized in European military practices during the 17th century, particularly in France. French military leaders began appointing trusted junior officers as aides-de-camp to assist with various duties such as carrying orders, handling correspondence, and providing personal assistance. 

King Louis XIV of France (1638–1715) is often credited with popularizing the use of aides-de-camp. During his reign, the role became a recognized and essential part of the military hierarchy, with aides-de-camp serving as indispensable assistants to senior officers and generals.

From there, The British Army adopted the practice of appointing aides-de-camp during the 18th century, following the example set by their European counterparts. The role became an established part of the British military structure and was later adopted by other nations, including the United States.

Which brings us to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1883). During this time, George Washtington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, utilized aides-de-camp extensively. In fact, Washington had 32 aides-de-camp over the course of the Revolutionary War, most notably Alexander Hamilton (who became the first secretary of the treasury). These men provided support in communication, strategy, and logistics and many of these aides-de-camps went on to continue to serve and support Washington postwar while he was President. 

The introduction of the aide-de-camp position marked a significant development in military organization, enabling more efficient command and control by providing senior officers with trusted assistants who could handle various important tasks. This role has since evolved and expanded beyond the military to include similar support positions in civilian and political contexts.

Revolutionary War Aide-de-Camps

As previously mentioned, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington’s aide-de-camps were indispensable. These men served as the General’s trusted advisors and liaisons carrying out a wide array of duties including: 

  • Communication: Relaying orders and messages across the chaotic battlefield.
  • Strategic Planning: Assisting in the formulation and implementation of military strategies.
  • Personal Management: Handling Washington’s correspondence and personal schedule, ensuring he could focus on the larger picture.

Their roles required not only military acumen but also an impeccable level of trust and loyalty. The effectiveness of Washington’s leadership was, in no small part, due to the efficiency and reliability of his aides.

Trusted advisors, logistical coordinators, confidants, strategic planners, communication liaisons, and more. These are all the marks of a great Force Multiplier and valuable assistant today. 

Personal Aides in Government 

In the United States government, there are several roles that run parallel to the military’s aide-de-camp, including Chiefs of Staff, Executive Assistants, Personal Aides, and Special Assistants. 

I’m specifically interested in the Personal Aide to the President position as I’m deep into the reading of Both/And by Huma Abedin. Abedin served by Hilary Clinton’s side for almost 20 years in several Force Multiplier positions, including personal aide and advisor, traveling Chief of Staff, “body woman”, deputy Chief of Staff, travel director, and vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for President. 

While staffer positions are fairly common today, the position of Personal Aide to the President was a new position created by Richard Nixon when he took office in 1969 and expanded and professionalized the White House Office staff. 

The Personal Aide to the President is generally referred to as the “body man” or “body woman”, and they travel wherever the President goes. These individuals are responsible for anticipating and providing for their principal’s needs, arranging and providing logistical and administrative support, interacting with media, public, and family, organizing personal briefings, speech cards, communication needs, and handling any other personal items to maintain a clear line of communication, strategic planning, and flawless execution of the President’s agenda.

Huma Abedin is an incredible example of the intelligence, strategic planning, adaptability, critical thinking, sound judgment, and emotional intelligence needed to support a Principal at the highest level. 

The level of dedication and support required to serve as a personal aide or aide-de-camp requires a special type of individual. Selfless, strategic, loyal, trust-worthy, intelligent, and discerning. They must be committed to a common mission much bigger than their personal success, and many times, even beyond the success of their principal (to serve a community, a company, or country). 

Today’s Revolutionary Assistants

We can learn a lot from the public sector’s respect for, and partnership with, assistants. Time and time again these right-hand men and women have acted as trusted advisors, executed strategic initiatives, and made important decisions during critical moments of chaos and change. 

Why, then, have assistants been pushed into the shadows, kept out of the most important conversions, disrespected, undervalued (and often underpaid), and relegated to only routine and repetitive work? 

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the shift happened, but suffice it to say that it hasn’t always been this way. 

What if we took a few notes out of Alexander Hamilton or Huma Abedin’s playbook? What if we think about assistants in the same manner as aides-de-camp and personal aides – as prominent and impactful strategic support

Today’s assistants and Force Multipliers are the linchpins of effective leadership, ensuring the smooth execution of strategies, orders, and daily operations, and that those at the helm can steer their teams towards success. They are business-savvy leaders and are not content to sit on the sidelines. They want in on the action.  

Today’s assistants are rewriting history. 

I, for one, know that I’m here for the revolution – for the next evolution of the assistant and Force Multiplier role.

After all, no one succeeds alone. Who’s with me? 

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