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Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

January 31, 2013

The recent movie “Lincoln”  reminds us of his legacy and remarkable accomplishments.  He saved the Union and abolished slavery.  He kept to his vision despite innumerable setbacks, and  much death and destruction.  Lincoln has been the subject of much admiration and study in leadership circles, and is discussed in a recent article in the NY Times by Nancy Koehn.

1.  Lincoln always looked forward and inspired Americans to a higher  course and a purpose that is larger than themselves.  He listened  to a variety of  people from different spheres of influence and was  present and authentic.  In a country whose focus is on “What’s in it for me”  now, it takes skill to motivate people to a higher purpose.  Companies today have mission statements, but how many people are inspired by them to actions for the greater good?

2. He kept his vision and composure while staying true to his vision and integrity.   There needs to be resilience and persistence to survive  what can  be an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows in a leadership role.  Lincoln had  high emotional intelligence– the ability to manage and control his emotions and to work well with others.  He gathered advice from a wide range of people and included those who were critical of him.  In this way  he showed respect for those who had different opinions. In todays’ culture of instantaneous  communication, what if Lincoln had hit the send button  too quickly on email?  So many of us react instead of responding  after thoughtful consideration as Lincoln demonstrated.

3.  The ability to shift gears when necessary requires flexibility and courage.  After a humiliating retreat at Gettysburg, Lincoln decided to draft the Emancipation Proclamation that declared  freedom for all slaves in the Confederacy. Then  the war became not just a conflict to save the Union, but to save a new Union without slavery.

Lincoln went on to lead the effort for the ratification of 13th Amendment which abolished slavery.  He died just six days after Lee surrendered to Grant to end the war that cost more American lives than any other war  in our history.

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