To Lead Like Lincoln


How To Lead Like Lincoln

I don’t know about you, but I find leadership to be one of the most difficult skills to refine.  I think being good leader takes practice and study.  I admire good leaders. I admire people who can say what’s on their mind, without worrying about people’s feelings and yet are tactful in their approach.  I admire leaders who can be visionary and detailed at the same time.  I am always looking for models of leadership that can help me be better at working with people, holding them accountable and empowering them to achieve.  All the while maintaining a clear vision and direction of where we are going, and not wavering from the principles that guide us.

I read an article in INC 5000 by Matthew Swyers, the founder of trademark Company.  He wrote that there are four traits of  great leaders.   He  says they are Aspire, Plan, Inspire, and Execute.  He refers to the leadership of John F. Kennedy, Sam Budnyk, and Gene Kranz as possessing these skills. – Here is a link to the article.

C:\Documents and Settings\Shelly\My Documents\4 Traits of Great Leaders  Inc_ 5000.mht

His article got me thinking about one leader I admire most. – The Great Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln.

With 12 Academy Award nominations, including Best Movie of the Year, the movie Lincoln has inspired many to express admiration for a great leader in history. Ironically, his leadership was not so appreciated in his day. The movie got me thinking, “what does Lincoln teach us about leadership?” 

Here are some thoughts on the qualities we need to possess if we want Lead Like Lincoln:

First, Lead with a Tenacious Sense of Purpose.


As the war drags on and appears to be coming to an end, Lincoln knows that he needs to broaden  the effect of  the Emancipation Proclamation by passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  He hears voices from both side of the aisle urging him to reconsider.  People are beyond tired. The war has taken an immeasurable toll and there is an aching desire for peace. No doubt Lincoln shared that desire.  The movie show his inner turmoil as he struggles with wanting the war to end, but also wanting to do what he know is right in seeing the passing of the 13th Amendment come to fruition.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.~A. Lincoln

Second, Have Penetrating Insight.


Lincoln saw everything.  He saw suffering. He saw evil. He saw love. He saw hope. Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as an observer of the world. He goes to the battlefields and the hospitals. He thinks before he speaks, and then thinks again. 

He seemed to have an understanding that his life with its beginning and end was just a shimmering  moment in the history of the world.

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. ~ A. Lincoln

Third, Show Great Wisdom About Human Nature


In this scene, Lincoln is talking  to the Secretary of State, William Seward and a Congressman, convincing him to support the 13th Amendment. Lincoln was not a pastor, he was a politician.  He understood how people tick and he used that knowledge to his advantage.  He understood that people have insecurities, needs, anxieties and hopes. 

As Lincoln worked to accomplish the passing of the 13th Amendment, he went directly to the members of Congress and met them on their own turf. He went to their homes. He sat in their parlors and helped them with their horses.  He was not too aloof or distant or unwilling to meet people in their lives as they were living them.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. ~A. Lincoln

Fourth Exhibit An Eloquent Style of Expression.


My favorite book about Lincoln is Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, by Ronald C. White. This short book walks through Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  Oh, to use the English language the way Lincoln did!  To be able to form words and ideas with thoughtful reverence. To speak to people with the belief that they were intelligent enough to think abstract thoughts. To convey ideas with passion.  As a lover of language, this is what I love most about Lincoln.

With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds. ~A. Lincoln

Fifth, Maintain a Good Sense of Humor


For all of the sadness and loss Lincoln experienced in his lifetime, he maintained a quick wit and gift for story telling. Maybe it was his defense mechanism for all the sorrow that surrounded him. Regardless, when people were anxious, Lincoln could defuse a room of angst with a quick story and break the tension with laughter. 


How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. ~A. Lincoln


So there it is:

Lead with Purpose,

Be Insightful,

Understand Human Nature,

Speak with Eloquence and

Maintain a Sense of Humor.


And then at the of the day, if we want to lead like Lincoln, it would behoove us to remember that it is:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

~ A. Lincoln


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