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Lincoln’s Leadership

February 10, 2011

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” – Abraham Lincoln

As President’s Day draws near we wanted to take this time to reflect on the successful leaderships of past American presidents. A President who always makes the top lists is that of Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865). Lincoln served as the 16th President of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

During his administration he successfully led the Union through the American Civil War, worked on unifying the nation, and abolished slavery [1]. In his first presidential election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas in a campaign that altered the fate of the U.S. for the five years that followed. The South (Confederate) had threatened if Lincoln won the election and became the next President they would withdraw from the Union. Within the first four months of his presidency seven southern states had separated from the Union, letting it be known that he was not wanted as their President [2].

If he were alive today he could relate to that of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Although their presidencies and circumstances are very different both Lincoln and Mubarak knows what it’s like to have their country violently divided due to their role as the Chief Executive. Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War is often described as one of solid direction with little compromise, yet he understood that it would be his sole responsibility for re-uniting the States once the North won the war. It was Lincoln’s strategies and command during the war that kept the Union together and eventually led to the end of slavery in the United States [3]

 “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” – Abraham Lincoln

The year 1863 was an important year for Lincoln. On January 1st, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation which announced the freedom of slaves within the Confederacy. He promoted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery forever. Then on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19th, Lincoln delivered his legendary Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln had closely supervised the war, especially the selection of top generals. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border states at the beginning of the war and made frequent attempts to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. Each time a general failed, Lincoln appointed another, until finally Ulysses S. Grant took position in 1865 when his succession management finally came full circle.

 Twelve days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered, resulting in the end of the war and victory for the North; President Lincoln was fatally shot at Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth.

 “I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.” – Abraham Lincoln

Historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin describes Lincoln’s “quiet self confidence” as a personal quality that made him a successful leader. “He was able to be surrounded by people better known than he was. He knew they’d argue and debate with him. In order to strengthen his own leadership he knew that if he could have that leadership in his own political family, it would make him a better leader. [That’s] relevant for leaders in business or anywhere. He could see both sides of the issue.” [4]

Five leadership traits that made Lincoln a successful leader:

1. He built a strong team

2. He clearly conveyed his message (with stories)

3. He persuaded others rather than coerce them

4. He was a strong public speaker

5. He was calm with contradiction and adversity


What leadership advice do you think President Lincoln would have for President Obama, particularly in terms of Iraq and his healthcare reform?







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