Framing the Dialogue

Lincoln On Leadership

“When Abraham Lincoln came to power in 1861, he found himself in a similar dilemma.  The first Republican president elected by a minority of the popular vote, Lincoln was viewed by many as a gawky, second-rate country lawyer ill equipped to handle the chief executive office – his own cabinet considered him nothing more than a figurehead.  Ten days before he took the oath of office, the Confederate States of America seceded from the Union, taking all Federal agencies, forts, and arsenals within their territory.  The country was so stricken that rumors of a military coup and assassination abounded at the inauguration.”

Donald T. Phillips studied President Lincoln as perhaps the quintessential leader.  In Lincoln on Leadership  Philips identifies fifteen characteristics that made Lincoln the perfect person to lead the United States through the troubled times in the mid 1800s.  Lincoln embodied many characteristics that we can learn from to make ourselves a better leader.  What I found most interesting was that Lincoln worked at honing his abilities,

“Lincoln was a master at the art of storytelling, and he used that ability purposefully and effectively…storytelling came naturally to Lincoln.  He inherited the ability partly from his father…after a long day’s work as a lawyer riding the circuit in Illinois, Abraham would pass the time with his colleagues at the local tavern, where each would take turns telling a favorite anecdote.  Often they would hold storytelling contests in front of standing-room-only crowds eager to be amused and entertained.  Over the years, Lincoln not only built up a good supply of tales but also perfected his skill at relating them.”

Lincoln’s “contests” provided him the opportunity to practice his craft which became a big part of his leadership style.  This fits with Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in his book Outliers about 10,000 hours being a tipping point for attaining skill in any task.  I cannot say that Lincoln practiced for that long, but it is clear that he identified the need and sought out opportunities to practice.

It was fun to read a leadership book based on one of my favorite historical figures.  Who better to feature?  I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who relied on leadership skills to navigate a very treacherous path as president.  As important as winning the Civil War was his treatment of the confederate states after the conflict.

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