Abraham Lincoln on Leadership

abraham lincoln leadership

With the opening of the movie ‘Lincoln’, Donald T Phillips book ‘Lincoln on Leadership’ is worth reading to appreciate the nuances of Lincoln’s character and for the lessons on leadership it provides. It is an inspiring read, because Abraham Lincoln himself inspired.
He fulfilled the main criterion from the seminal work on leadership by James McGregor Burns: a person who can “lift others into their better selves”.

Lincoln as Leader

The nickname “Honest Abe” was apparently accurate and his reputation for honesty made people trust him and increased his ability to lead.
He sought objectivity saying “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.” He did not have time for pettiness, blame or retribution.
Interestingly, although he frequently wrote angry letters to his generals, he never sent them.
Perhaps a lesson for us in the email and twitter era where sometimes we write in haste and regret later!
He was always keen to give people another chance. His willingness to overlook mistakes, seen by some as a weakness, and to hold his tongue, endeared him to his staff.
He sought to use persuasion, not coercion, to achieve his ends, and was fond of the maxim “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall”.
Only if you could convince someone that you were really their friend could you really influence them. Even though he had periods of depression, he knew the power of a pleasing personality and was always ready to compliment or encourage. He rarely lost his temper.
In terms of managing his own generals, Lincoln was not afraid to let them know what he thought were their bad points, yet he also gave them free rein to perform.
Many of his generals did not meet his expectations and were given lesser responsibilities, but when the man did come along who would act in the way that he wanted he placed large responsibilities under his command.
Next time you find yourself in a quandary about how to deal with someone or how to cope with a crisis, ask yourself “What would Lincoln have done?”

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