Abe Lincoln’s Leadership Tips
As I’ve mentioned before, Abe Lincoln was a pretty smart guy who knew how to get things done. He was a great communicator with a knack for knowing how to take a simple story and make it into an effective tool for conveying a point.
While his communication skills are a great argument for his success in the political arena and our fond memory of him as the 16th president, his leadership skills were admirable as well, and are also worth emulating.
Whether you’re naturally a take-charge kind of person or someone who’s more comfortable away from the limelight, chances are that learning to develop your leadership skills will benefit you in the long run. So, take some lessons from our old pal, Abe.
You’ve probably had a boss or a coach who at one point or another felt compelled to illustrate their leadership by ignoring other people’s commentary and trying to make themselves look superior. Usually, this goes terribly awry, and the person in leadership eventually comes to realize that they would’ve excelled if they would have just been more humble.
Throughout Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln shows humility time and time again, which allows him to take advantage of the great ideas of the people around him. In the process, he looks like a more benevolent leader, and his team became increasingly loyal each time he deferred to them.
According to one of Lincoln’s fellow lawyers, “he [Lincoln] arrogated himself no superiority over anyone—not even the most obscure member of the bar… He was remarkably gentle with young lawyers… No young lawyer ever practiced in the courts with Mr. Lincoln who did not in all his after life have a regard for him akin to personal affection”(Goodwin, p.150). Developing the ties of personal affection are much harder without humility. Lincoln understood that dynamic, and was always willing to make friends with the average person instead of angling to get ahead and make the “right” connections, which allowed him to understand the needs and expectations of the everyday person instead of just the elite few. “Like Lincoln, Chase had spent many months traveling throughout his home state, but his haughty demeanor prevented him from truly connecting with the farmers, clerks and bartenders he met along the way. Bates, meanwhile, had isolated himself for so long from the hurly-burly of the political world that his once natural political savvy was diminished”(Goodwin p. 255)
During Lincoln’s first term, there was a sensitive conflict that prompted two of his cabinet members to hand in their resignation, which Lincoln did not accept. Lincoln was victorious over the biggest governmental crisis of his presidency up to that point. “He had treated the senators with dignity and respect and, in the process, had protected the integrity and autonomy of his cabinet…He had saved his friend Seward from an unjust attack that was really directed at him, and, simultaneously, solidified his own position as master of both factions in his cabinet” (Goodwin, p. 495). In this situation he humbled himself by deflecting the attack that was intended for Seward, his secretary of state, and taking it upon himself. His willingness to do this is evidence of Sherman’s assessment of Lincoln; “of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other” (Goodwin, p. 713).
During Lincoln’s historic visit to Richmond after the Union victory, the presidential vessel was forced to wait outside the channel due to wreckage and torpedoes in the water, and the President went on in the captain’s barge towed behind a small tugboat. “’Here we were in a solitary boat,’ Admiral Porter remembered, ‘after having set out with a number of vessels flying flags at every mast-head hoping to enter the conquered capital in a manner befitting the rank of the President of the United States.’ Lincoln was not disturbed in the slightest. The situation reminded him, he cheerfully noted, of a man who had approached him seeking a high position as a consulate minister: ‘Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally, he asked to be made a tide-waiter. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. But it is well to be humble’”(Goodwin, 719). Rather than create a presidential scene, or wait until he could enter Richmond in style, Lincoln simply went on with things, which is a sign that he wasn’t too big for his britches. According to one onlooker, “it was impossible to detect in him the slightest feeling of pride, much less of vanity” (Goodwin, 721).
We should all strive to be more like Lincoln in our leadership capabilities, and being more humble is a great way to start!
Until Next Time,