Your choices and actions can make great contributions to both public and private value. Recent attention and related discussion around the film, Lincoln, offers a spotlight for some powerful lessons in managing and leading. The movie focuses mostly on the 13th Amendment, which made slavery unconstitutional. However, the leadership Lincoln demonstrated in the period before the Emancipation Proclamation is also significant and revealing.
The Situation. Lincoln was burdened by the tensions created in a commitment to abolish slavery but preserve the Union. Opponents were merciless in criticism and allies were very frustrated. He was troubled by huge loss of life from the Civil War, depressed by his own child’s death, faced intense political opposition and other practical difficulties.
Lincoln Attributes. Most historians and contemporary observers agree that Lincoln was resilient, patient, thorough, emotionally intelligent, showed moral clarity and passion, was accessible, present, authentic, intuitive and credible. He was also known for his honesty and humility.
Lincoln Competencies. A review of his skills and knowledge indicate Lincoln was a careful listener, a capable analyst and strategist, adaptive, integrative and evidence-based. His management choices were well-timed and he was a deliberate thinker.
The Lincoln Lessons
(1) Keep the big goal constant. Disciplined thought and action against that North Star will ensure forward progress. Lincoln never wavered on his intended primary result.
(2) Be accessible. Leadership doesn’t hide behind closed doors as it ensures only isolation, insulation and elitism. Lincoln engaged in “open hours” with citizens at the White House and communicated constantly with those inside and outside his influence.
(3) Actively seek diverse opinion and thought. A range of thought was key to great perspective. Inclusion is an important principle. Lincoln invited his rivals’ opinions and experiences.
(4) Humility and honesty win. Ego, lies and manipulation take time and energy. Lincoln’s character was consistent and reliable. He rarely sought retribution or vengeance and kept a long view.
(5) Expect challenge and adversity. Change involves opposition and risk. Lincoln faced tough opponents and new obstacles repeatedly.
(6) Adapt tactics to context. Gathering information, sensing and interpretation are vital tasks which inform revision. Lincoln was willing to alter plans.
(7) Recognize timing matters. An emotional or even fast response may not be best. Lincoln waited strategically to share the Emancipation Proclamation after a battle victory for good reason.
(8) Share responsibility and success. Know that others have important contributions to make. Find and engage great people. Lincoln worked with and through a team. Competent managers act this way.
(9) Be persistent with complexity. Don’t react, respond. Think long enough to untangle the knots. Lincoln was known for his intellectual exploration.
(10) Messages matter. Effective communications are important in connecting with people. Lincoln used humor and told stories with a lesson. Compared to others, his public comments were short and clear.
Harvard Business School uses a case on Lincoln’s presidency to illustrate good practices. Our 16th president was very capable, but not flawless. Nobody is. But, his choices can offer inspiration and constructive example.
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : http://www.pwkinc.com