What we can learn from Abraham Lincoln

Excerpts from Leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln, Diane Coutu

“History also shows that it’s essential to know how to connect to the larger public, whether that’s through radio, in the case of Franklin Roosevelt, or in Lincoln’s case, through speeches that were filled with such poetry and clarity that people felt they were watching him think and that he was telling them the truth.”

“I would add here that one more success factor is key for great leadership, be it in business or politics, and it’s one that’s usually overlooked. As a leader you need to know how to relax so that you can replenish your energies for the struggles facing you tomorrow.”

“Lincoln went to the theater about a hundred times while he was in Washington. And although he suffered from a certain melancholy, he had a tremendous sense of humor and would entertain people long into the night with his stories. Franklin Roosevelt was the same way. He had this cocktail hour every evening during World War II when you just couldn’t talk about the war. He needed to remain free from thinking about the bad things for a few hours. Or he would play with his stamps. This ability to recharge your batteries in the midst of great stress and crisis is crucial for successful leadership.”

“You also have to be able to figure out how to share credit for your success with your inner team so that they feel a part of a mission. Basically, you want to create a reservoir of good feeling, and that involves not only acknowledging your errors but even shouldering the blame for the failures of some of your subordinates. Again and again, Lincoln took responsibility for what he did, and he shared responsibility for the mistakes of others, and so people became very loyal to him.”

“For months Lincoln let his cabinet debate about if and when slavery should be abolished. Finally, though, he made up his mind to issue his historic Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves. He brought the cabinet together and told them he no longer needed their thoughts on the main issue—but that he would listen to their suggestions about how best to implement his decision and its timing. So even though some members still did not support Lincoln’s decision, they felt they’d been heard. And they had been. When one cabinet member suggested that Lincoln wait for a victory on the field to issue the proclamation, Lincoln took his advice.”

 

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