Summary of Lincoln On Leadership (Donald T. Phillips)
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States of America, about 72-years after George Washington was appointed as the first President.
Ten days before President Lincoln took office in March 1861, seven states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis sworn in as their President. The Confederate States claimed all federal agencies, properties and arsenals within their territory.
Lincoln was viewed by his own advisors at the time of his election as being no more than a second-rate country lawyer with scant leadership experience and absolutely no idea on how things were done in Washington. Most of the people who accepted office in Lincoln’s cabinet considered him to be a figurehead they would be able to manipulate to suit their own personal agendas.
To make matters worse, Lincoln was assuming executive control of the nation’s armed forces just at the very moment civil war was about to break out. Lincoln had no military experience, had never been tested in the heat of battle and seemed totally ill equipped for running an army.
Yet despite all these obstacles, Abraham Lincoln managed to exert such leadership that he held an entire nation together in its most perilous hour. In addition, Lincoln expanded the office of the President of the United States to such an authoritative pinnacle that today the person who holds this elected office is widely considered to be the most powerful person in the world.
In essence, Lincoln’s accomplishments were based solely on his style of leadership and personal philosophy. Today, more than 130 years after he held office, Abraham Lincoln is still considered to be the greatest leader the United States has ever known. Many Americans would even argue he is the best leader the world has ever produced.
Abraham Lincoln instinctively knew how to lead, and these are the principles and lessons his leadership taught.
“Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations - the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations - of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers’ values and motivations.”
– James MacGregor Burns
“Many acts heralded or bemoaned as instances of leadership - acts of oratory, manipulation, sheer self-advancement, brute coercion - are not such. Much of what commonly passes as leadership - conspicuous position-taking without followers or follow-through, posturing on various public stages, manipulation without general purpose, authoritarianism - is no more leadership than the behaviour of small boys marching in front of a parade, who continue to strut along Main Street after the procession has turned down a side street toward the fairgrounds.”
– James MacGregor Burns
Abraham Lincoln was one of the most accessible leaders America has ever seen. He visited with people so much that he could appreciate their viewpoints whenever he needed to make an important decision. No person was ever denied access to the President, regardless of whether they held a high office or none at all.
This background allowed Lincoln to understand and appreciate human nature in all its complexities. Based on that understanding, he could form strong and useful alliances with people all over the political spectrum - even those who were of different political philosophies.
Lincoln rarely issued direct orders. His preferred method of working with people was to suggest a proper course of action - generally using humourous stories with strong morals - and then let people move on their own initiative. He also took the time to write long letters which set out exactly what he thought about a matter so there would not be any misunderstanding.
1. Take advice from everyone who offers it
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