Lincoln on Leadership is one of the most powerful books on leadership that I have read. The most interesting part to me was that Lincoln was a true leader as President and not just an individual who sat back and let others do all the necessary work while he made the pubic appearances. In my studies of history, I have never analyzed any president as a real leader, probably because before this class I assumed that they all were leaders. Now I know they are not. Every point that is made in the book to support Lincoln as a real leader is something that either we discussed in class or something that is covered in our text. The best part about this book, though, was its readability. Once you got past the introduction, it was hard to put it down. It is unfortunate that the simple things that Lincoln did which made him so great are too much for some mangers today. For example, creating relationships with your employees.
The first part of Lincoln on Leadership deals with the people, the employees. In Lincoln’s case, the employees were the troops who were preparing for and engaging in civil war battles. The title of the first chapter is, “Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops.” Without even reading one word after the title, I immediately thought of the class discussion on Tom Peters and his concept of “managing by walking around.” In class we talked about how real leaders will get to know their employees and create open, trusting relationships with them. If there is trust between a leader and the employees, the employees will feel very comfortable in everyday situations as well as situations of crisis. The importance of just knowing about the individuals who work for you is so great, yet many people in today’s work force give little attention to the personal side of work. Early on in chapter one, Tom Peters was mentioned and the MBWA (managing by wandering around) was explained in great detail as it applied to Lincoln. For example, Phillips says, “ For Lincoln, casual contact with his subordinates was as important as formal gatherings, if not more so, and today’s leaders should take note of this style. He preferred whenever possible, to interact with people when they were in a more relaxed, less pressure-packed environment” (16). This enabled Lincoln to accomplish many things, especially obtaining knowledge first hand.
The importance of obtaining information first hand is very important for a leader. We saw the example in class with the telephone chain game. By the time the fourth person heard the story, it was so distorted that it didn’t make ant sense at all. This holds true for any information that a leader may obtain. The best method is to get all the information you can from the source in order to eliminate discrepancies. Lincoln did this and was able to do so by being around his people. Lincoln made himself very available and visible to the troops. “Lincoln made it a point to personally inspect every state regiment of volunteers that passed through Washington, D.C., on their way to the front; and early in the war, they all passed through Washington” (Phillips 19). It is very rare these days, at least in my experiences, to see the CEO of a major company walking around getting to know the people who are working way down at the bottom of the ladder. In class, you called them worker ants, what we will most likely begin as when we graduate. However, worker ants are very important. They are necessary for the company because they are producing the goods or services that the company needs to survive, and therefore they benefit the CEO. It seems to make sense then that the CEO would want to acknowledge these people, but they don’t. Lincoln, however, did see the advantage. “This type of personal contact helped Lincoln show the troops that the government appreciated their efforts” (Phillips 19). It really isn’t so hard, because in the long run the entire organization will benefit from personal contact between leaders and workers.
Part I also talked about building strong alliances and how important it is to put aside a personal conflict for the good of the organization. Phillips said that, “Abraham Lincoln listened. Paid attention, and established trust. He worked hard at forging strong relationships with all of his subordinates, especially the members of his cabinet and his commanding generals. In some cases the president overcame intense negative feelings toward him on the part of a few individuals” (28). All of these qualities were exactly what we came up with in class that we felt made a good leader. The listening and communication skills that Lincoln had enabled him to do everything else especially gain trust and build strong alliances. The relationships were also built on persuasion, another technique that we discussed that a leader should be able to do. At times a leader ahs to make his people do things that they may normally not want to do. One of Lincoln’s problems within his army was that some generals did not want o take charge of their men and take on the responsibility that their position required. “Lincoln encouraged them to take initiative, to issue orders according to their own judgement, and to act without consulting him” (Phillips 41-42). He put his confidence in his men, which in turn gave them confidence in them.
Lincoln’s character was a good part of what made him such a great leader. He was honest with his subordinates and honest with himself. “His integrity was, in short, the nation’s integrity” (Phillips 53). He was honest by nature and “ he simply did not deal with people he knew to be dishonest” (Phillips 54). He really set an example, and a very positive one, for the entire nation. He spoke the truth and followed through with his actions. The truth was not always easy to deal with. Phillips also talked about the importance of dealing with criticism. He would try to defend himself against any negative criticism that he heard, especially if “was particularly damaging tot he public’s view of his principles” (Phillips 69). He cared about how he looked as a leader to the nation. We said in class that a leader is one who is able to be true to yourself and your people, “Honest Abe”, as he was nick named, was defiantly a “true” leader.
The third part of the book dealt with many of the qualities that we discussed as being important for a good leader to have. For example, Lincoln was a decisive leader. There was an issue as to what was going to happen at Fort Sumter. Against many other individual opinions, especially the Democratic Party, Lincoln made the decision to keep the troops at Fort Sumter, which is what he originally said he would do, even though it brought much criticism his way. He didn’t change his mind when the pressure was on and that made him a notably decisive leader, one that should be studied more closely by leaders of today.
The last part of the book dealt with communication, which would probably be considered a “buzz” word of leadership today. The part that many people forget about when it comes to communication is the listening. Lincoln listened and when he spoke, the people listened. Phillips talks about the use of story telling as an effective way of communication between leaders and their followers. When a leader uses a story or personal anecdote to relate a situation to the employees, it makes many individuals feel more comfortable. It is also a useful technique for making a situation relevant to the majority of a group. Phillips said that Lincoln “could talk to anyone, brilliant scientist, wily politician, visiting head of state, or simple backwoods farmer” (155). By using story telling he was able to communicate with all people, which gained him tremendous respect and support.
Lincoln was a leader like no other that I know of today. He seems to fit all of the many qualities that we discussed in class in a way that I thought was impossible for any person. Every person who wants to be a leader should really read this book.