Abe Lincoln’s leadership lessons
As we commemorate the 206th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, most people celebrate his birth, if at all, by grabbing a great bargain at the mall. This trivialization is deeply concerning for many reasons, not the least of which is ignoring his tremendous leadership. Even a casual review reveals that Lincoln’s life provides lessons in freedom, perseverance, integrity, vision, knowledge and humor.
Freedom. Freedom was the touchstone of nearly every political decision Lincoln made. In the end, his legacy comes down to protecting liberty: emancipation, the 13th Amendment, the Homestead Act, the intercontinental railroad, and preserving the Union were all acts intricately bound in freedom. We should all embrace this foundational commitment to our liberties.
Perseverance. Lincoln was a loser for the longest of periods. He was a minor state legislator in a frontier state and a one-term congressman, who was vaulted to the presidency in no small measure by sheer persistence. In fact, he became most famous by losing in his senatorial bid against Stephen Douglas. But he continued the struggle — and won. We cannot all be winners all the time, but we know that persistence is the key to long-term success.
Integrity. Lincoln’s nickname was “Honest Abe” for a reason. He earned this moniker while working as a store clerk. He undertook at least a couple of walks that were miles long to find customers and give them their correct change or missing goods.
His advice to new lawyers summarized his character: “Resolve to be honest at all times; and if in your judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.” Words to live by.
Inspiration. Lincoln wrote and spoke some of the most inspirational words ever rendered by an American, or anyone for that matter. He understood the power of the word and pen. He moved the entire country forward with the Gettysburg Address. Our greatest moments are when we transcend ourselves and inspire others to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”
Knowledge. Although he had hardly any formal education, he was a voracious reader and scholarly in the law and history. He called upon his knowledge to guide his actions, and solicited advice from a wide range of sources. Indeed, his cabinet was a “team of rivals” — composed of political foes who vied for the presidency or were leaders of various Republican factions. President Lincoln listened to their advice and acted on the best ideas. Do not be closed minded — make informed decisions after considering a wide range of perspectives.
Humor. The yarns of Lincoln are famous. At times he exasperated some of his staff because he seemed more intent on telling stories and jokes than focusing on the issues at hand. However, this style of leadership not only has the advantages of mentoring through storytelling and placing others at ease, it makes life so much more enjoyable. Enjoy yourself — you only have one life to lead.
Lincoln’s lessons and legacy should not be relegated to a single day in the year — especially when that day is combined with every other president. That’s why my then 10-year-old daughter Leah and I included him as a vital part of Patriot Week. Patriot Week renews America’s spirit by celebrating the First Principles, Founding Fathers and other patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history.
Anchored by the key dates of Sept. 11 (the anniversary of the terrorists attacks) and Sept. 17 (Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution), the schedule for each day has a separate focus. Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address are commemorated in connection with their tremendous contributions for the First Principle of racial equality.
Lincoln was assassinated for what he believed in. Our generation has a responsibility to ensure that his vision burns in our hearts and minds for generations to come.