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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lincoln's Character

Third in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillip.

The stories about Lincoln’s character were legendary. Considered one of the best conversationalists in history, he could talk to generals or privates with equal ease and sway. He was always Abe and always a servant leader. He never felt superior to others, and his humility was disarming. In fact, he would sometimes sign his letters to cabinet members: “Your Obedient Servant, A. Lincoln.” Talk about humility! Most of America’s CEOs could take a lesson from Abe. Here are a few principles from this section of the book.

1. Honesty and integrity are critical: “Honest Abe” has become a name we ascribe to people who are unflinchingly honest. Not only was Lincoln a truthful man, his sense of integrity or consistency was genuine and practiced daily, when he was a general store owner, a lawyer, and a president. Every piece of research you will ever read eventually comes back to honesty and integrity as critical elements of effective leaders. Bottom Line: Honesty is always the best policy.

2. Revenge is stupid: In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said it best: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds….” Lincoln was not a petty man who sought vengeance and retribution. He had no time for it. Bottom Line: Don’t waste precious intelligence and energy on petty vengeance.

3. Have grace under pressure: The author points out that it was Ernest Hemingway who defined courage as “grace under pressure.” And if ever there were an example of such grace under enormous political pressure, it was Abe Lincoln during the Civil War. He was scorned by many people for his courage to take charge of such a messy and complex war. He often dealt with it two ways: 1) he ignored defamation if it was petty; 2) he fought back if it was big enough to have significant political impact. One technique he practiced that I have taught students for years is was to write long searing letters of retribution and rebuttal….BUT never mail them. They’re cathartic but not destructive to relationships. Bottom Line: Courage sometimes means turning the other cheek.

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