Abraham Lincoln and Leadership

Abraham LincolnThere is a lot of renewed interest in Abraham Lincoln these days.  In fact, a movie about him has just been nominated for a Golden Globe Award.  So, what is the deal with Lincoln?  Was he really the greatest president of all time?

Donald T. Phillips wrote a book in 1993 entitled, Lincoln on Leadership.  The subtitle was Executive Strategies for Tough Times.  In that book he provides significant insight into leadership principles that Lincoln exhibited and cultivated in others.  Phillips points out many unique qualities of Lincoln.  He also focuses on what he calls The Lincoln Principles.  He goes on to develop Lincoln’s Principles of Character, Principles of Endeavor, and Principles of Communication.  I don’t have time to develop each of these.  But, I recommend the book if you are interested in pursuing this line of thought on a political figure that has become a pop culture figure again of late.

One characteristic that caught my eye was the fact that Lincoln is the only U.S. president to hold a U.S. Patent.  Lincoln received a patent for a method of making a certain kind of boat more buoyant.  Not all that remarkable in and of itself.  But it demonstrates that Lincoln was creative.  He was not just a “community organizer”. 

He was not only creative; he was also a great developer of leadership intelligence and information from those around him.  Lincoln was keenly aware that people (his cabinet and his military leaders) were the major source of information and that in order for him to be a great leader he had to stay close to them.  But being close to them was not enough.  He needed the relationship to be real and intimate.  He built those relationships by holding more informal meetings with these people than formal meetings. 

What is the leadership principle here? 

Stay close to your people.  Maintain multiple informal touch points with your staff.  Walk over to their office and sit down in their space.  And talk to them about their world, their families, and their interests.  Lincoln demonstrated this principle of the value of the human being throughout his life.  Let me paraphrasing what Phillips says.  He says that the foundation of Lincoln’s leadership style was an unshakeable commitment to the rights and personal worth of the individual. 

May it be said of me that I hold the worth of my team and my fellow man in the highest regard.

When following is actually leading

Three Wise MenThere is a powerful image that each of us have of the Three Wise Men kneeling at the manger in Bethlehem. These men have been known in song as “kings”. You remember the song, don’t you?

“We three kings of Orient are . . .”

Now, whether or not they really were kings is not a matter that I care to debate today. They were probably more likely some sort of religious or scholarly leader from distant lands. The point for me to make is that they were recognized leaders of some sort or another. And the image that we have of them from Christmas pageants over the years is an image of them arriving and kneeling at the manger and presenting their gifts.

But integral to the story is the fact they were also “followers”. They followed a star. And that star led them to the Baby Jesus. Let’s say it again. These leaders were also followers. Had they not been willing to put their own agendas and egos aside and become followers, they would have missed the single most important event in all of human history.

Here is the leadership trait that I want to emphasize today. Great leaders must be willing to become great followers from time to time. And the paradox of leadership is that we are really both simultaneously. And when we cease to be a follower, we cease to be effective as a leader. And the result of following that star provided these three men with an experience that was transformational and one that needed to be communicated to others.  So, according to Biblical records, these three leaders returned to their homes by a different route to avoid King Herod who was bent on destroying the baby who had been born to be the real One to follow.

What about you? Have you shown an ability to follow as well as lead?

And are you following someone or something worthy of being followed?

What Would Winston Do?

Winston Churchill and the TroopsIt was once very popular to wear jewelry with the letters WWJD that asked an important question – “What would Jesus do?”  That is a valid and valuable question to ask oneself when addressing life’s challenges.  But what about addressing the challenges of leadership?  I would posit that Winston Churchill and his leadership style would be a good reference for the rhetorical question:

“What would Winston do?”

What would Winston do when he tried to migrate his old blog to a new domain?  – – Oh wait.  I guess Winston Churchill had a little bit tougher problems than my silly website issues to deal with in fighting the Axis powers.

One thing I know for sure.  Winston Churchill would never give up.  He would not surrender.  He would not back down in the face of adversity.  Rather, he would stiffen his British upper lip and he would stand firm.  

The leadership principle here is steadfastness.  Some would call it stubbornness.  But in a more positive light you would have to call it steadfastness.

So, what about you?  What do you do when the going gets tough?  What do you do in the face of overwhelming adversity?  Let’s make the questions a little more personal and targeted to this audience.

  • Businessman – Are you steadfast in your commitment to integrity in your business deals?
  • Young father – Are you steadfast in your resolve to place a priority on being an influence in your children’s lives while they are young and achieving a balance in your life where your family is concerned?
  • Husband – Are you steadfast in your love for your wife and hold her up as something more precious than rubies?
  • Teacher – Are you steadfast in your role as an educator and influencer of the next generation of citizens?
  • Grandparent – Are you steadfast in your role in supporting young families by being a receptive ear and broad shoulder on which someone can lean?

Let’s not over-analyze Churchill’s life and legacy.  His own family situation was a bit of a train wreck.  But, the point I wish to make is that we can draw inspiration from historical figures and we can extract positive characteristics from ultimately flawed characters.  And here is perhaps the fundamental difference between the two characters.  Jesus’s character was not flawed.  And He can be the perfect inspiration and example for you and I.


Image of Winston Churchill in the public domain.