Research Paper on Book Title "Lincoln on Leadership" - Leadership Essay Example

Abraham Lincoln is known to almost everyone - Research Paper on Book Title "Lincoln on Leadership" introduction. It is recognized that he led the country through one of the hardest times in its history. What many of us do not know or understand are the methods he employed in order to lead us through the Civil War. Phillips became interested in Lincoln’s leadership methods and abilities because he found that these same ideas were still being taught today. He wrote this book because he was unable to find other books detailing Lincoln’s leadership.

Because Lincoln’s methods are still applicable in today’s leadership environment, Phillips realized that much could be learned by examining Lincoln’s actions while serving as president. According to Phillips “the foundation of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style was an unshakable commitment to the rights of the individual” (1992, p. 3). We will learn from Philips how Lincoln’s methods helped him to become a great leader. Lincoln led through his dealings with people by being available. He knew that if a leader never left their office they would miss out on the real action. A leader needed to be available to those relying upon him.


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Lincoln needed and wanted the most up-to-date information he could have in order to make decisive and speedy decisions. The best way for him to do this was to be around the people who were getting the job done. Also, for Lincoln it was important for people to know they were appreciated for the work they were doing for the country. By keeping in touch with the people he was tapping a wealth of information he might not receive otherwise. He did not wait for the information to be brought to him, he went to where the information was, and he even waited at the telegraph office for messages so he could reply quickly.

This philosophy was important because in order to win the war Lincoln knew he needed to have a good idea of the workings of the troops and to always be on top of things. This is not an unheard of idea. Some have termed this style as “managing by wandering around” (Phillips, 1992, p. 14). It is basically the act of getting out of your office and establishing human contact. Giving your followers access to yourself as a leader will help them to believe you truly are interested in them and committed to making things work. Building strong alliances was another leadership method used by Lincoln.

This allowed him to gain the trust and respect of his subordinates. He took the time to listen to his people and this enabled him to get to know them better. By being familiar with his people he could predict how they would react in certain situations and he was also able to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Lincoln wanted action and victory and by placing people with the right characteristics in places where he needed them, more things could be accomplished. By building relationships such as this with subordinates a leader can begin to overcome personal differences and/or hard feelings.

The use of persuasion instead of coercion was another method Lincoln used in order to get what he wanted to accomplish done. According to Phillips “when a leader begins to coerce his followers, he’s essentially abandoning leadership and embracing dictatorship” (1992, p. 38). He knew that he would not be able to do everything on his own. He needed to be able to trust that his people could lead without his direct guidance and that they would understand what his wishes would be and to follow them accordingly.

Lincoln did not want to force anyone to do something they did not want to do because he did not want to violate the rights of anyone. Because of this he used openness, empowerment, and coaching in his dealings with his people. He wanted to work with and through his people in order to accomplish his objectives; he did not want to have to watch over their every move to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to do. He knew if he tried to dictate orders to everyone that they would close themselves off and it would become harder to accomplish anything. Leadership … involves parenting…. leaders often nurture and guide subordinates much as parents do children” (1992, p. 47). Lincoln hoped that through the suggestions he made to his people, his guidance of them, that they would do the right thing. Honesty and integrity were also important aspects of Lincoln’s leadership. He understood that honesty was the best policy. Leaders are supposed to do the right thing and being honest is part of that. A truthful leader will have greater respect from his subordinates and they will also have more trust in a leader they can believe.

In order to be known as honest Lincoln knew his words, deeds, and actions would need to be beyond reproach so he even refused to have dealings with dishonest people. He knew he needed to lead by example and if he was known to associate with questionable people that it could damage what he was trying to accomplish. Lincoln knew that honesty and integrity were qualities that will help a leader hold an organization together. He had firsthand experience at this by trying to keep our country united. Spite, to Lincoln, had no place in his leadership.

It was beneath him as a leader and he did not have the time to waste on this emotion. People respond better to kindness and empathy. Being spiteful could make enemies and Lincoln did not want that, he wanted to increase support for him and the union. In support of this idea Lincoln did not believe in executions during his time in office because he believed that it could damage the nation. Trying to make an example out of some will only serve to make enemies of others. Subordinates will be more likely to seek out a leader if they do not have to worry about any sort of retaliation.

This will allow the leader to be more effective if they have a good relation with their people. “An organization takes on the personality of its top leader” (Phillips, 1992, p. 62), so it was smart of Lincoln to lead how he would want others to act. Lincoln knew that he would not be able to please everyone, no matter how hard a person tries. Because of this he faced a lot of criticism but for the most part he would ignore the attacks on himself. Lincoln had no true recourse against criticism so he figured that he should not let certain things bother him.

He did fight back when he felt it was important enough or if he felt his principles would be damaged in the eyes of the public. Another way he dealt with the criticism was to write letters but to not mail them. This way he could vent his feelings and he could let the matter go. Just like Lincoln, a leader today should be confident in their abilities and in his/her knowledge of knowing right from wrong and should be able to continue on their path and not let criticism sway them from what they know to be the right thing to do. Lincoln was a paradox.

He used a different approach for everything. A person could never really expect what he might do. He would do whatever he felt was the right thing for that situation, even if it was completely opposite of what he had previously done. For example, a quick decision might need to be made in one instance but in another the decision might require more thought. He did not limit himself or assign an official policy because he never knew when he would need to make a change. Another paradox with Lincoln was that even though he was flexible he was still consistent in areas that were important.

He treated everyone the same, he chose assignments for people with the same criteria, and he was consistent in how he managed the government. This consistency made him dependable in the eyes of the nation, which allowed them to have faith in his abilities. He knew how to take advantage of his strengths and was able to recognize his shortcomings and compensate for them; both of these helped him to be a paradoxical leader. Being strong and decisive is another leading characteristic Lincoln displayed. Because of the situation the nation was facing he knew that a strong hand was needed in order to fight to keep the country united.

Taking advantage of every available situation and resource is something a good leader is able to do and that is what Lincoln did. He had to be firm, resourceful and innovative when making decisions in order to meet the demands of the presidency. He did not hesitate when he thought swift action was needed. He still always made sure that his decisions were in line with his personal and administrative policies, something every leader needs to be aware of. Lincoln believed in leading by being led. To him, this meant giving credit where and when credit was due but also to take the responsibility when something went wrong.

This type of leading encouraged people to take risks because they knew they would not be blamed if it did not turn out how it was expected to. When his subordinate’s ideas matched his Lincoln would let that individual proceed with the idea and allow them to think that it was completely their idea. This allowed others to feel good, as if they were doing the leading. If their ideas did not match his Lincoln would guide them by implying, hinting, or suggesting things that would allow that person to get back to his way of thinking. Through the use of praise and encouragement a leader is able to guide their subordinates.

Eventually, leader and follower will have similar ideas and the leader can relax and let the subordinates do more of the work. Lincoln wanted to always be working toward his goals. In order to succeed he firmly established goals and worked to get acceptance from his subordinates. This is important because goals allow people to feel unified toward something. A person’s work has more meaning when they are motivated to focus their talent and energy toward goal attainment. Lincoln was ambitious in the attainment of his goals but he knew that a successful outcome was only going to be accomplished in steps.

This was why he wanted the military to focus upon one battle at a time. Intense focus upon each step allows undivided attention and the best possible outcome at that time. Even when one step toward the goals does not work it is something to be learned from and is never a total failure. Persistence is something that goes a long way towards the final attainment of a leader’s goals. A successful leader like Lincoln needs to have a chief subordinate who is willing to take responsibility, take risks, and will actually make things happen.

He needed a take charge kind of person. Lincoln went through many generals before he found Grant. Previous generals were willing to just sit and wait for the battles to come to them but Lincoln knew this was not the way to win the war. When they did not organize the army or implement a strategy to invade the south in the manner Lincoln deemed fit he did not hesitate to find a replacement who he thought would do the job. Lincoln would initially remove some responsibility from the individual in the hope the person would be able to perform better with less responsibility.

When this tactic did not work he would then remove the individual from the decision making process. By easing the person out in steps he was trying to preserve the dignity of the person while giving them a chance to raise their performance and get back to where they were. A leader such as Lincoln realizes that mistakes will be made but never taking the chance is worse, which is how most of his generals before Grant acted. Grant was exactly the kind of person Lincoln needed because he did not need daily direction from Lincoln and he took risks that paid off.

While still being active in the process, a leader can then focus on other important issues. Lincoln knew there “was more than one way to skin a cat” (Phillips, 1992, p. 137). He knew it was important to learn from the successes, mistakes and failures of others. Because of this he knew that change was important. Lincoln created change by fostering innovation. He attended demonstrations of new guns because he did not want to accept the limits of the current tools of war. He knew the importance of new guns for the troops and wanted to implement any new technology for the northern troops before the enemy had the chance.

Innovation allows an organization to have a better chance of survival against their competition. By responding to the technological changes of his time Lincoln was trying to ensure the long life of the United States government as one unit, not two divided. Public speaking was a tool used by Lincoln. It allowed him to perfect his ability to persuade and influence people. He knew when to speak and when to be quiet. He also only gave speeches when he wanted to convey a message, not just to hear himself speak. He believed in being prepared because he did not want his message to be misinterpreted or misquoted.

He would take great preparation in researching his topic and was never finished preparing for a speech until he actually gave it. Writing out his speeches in advance gave him the chance to think about what he was going to say and to ensure it would come across the way he wanted. Being prepared can pay off because it is necessary to know what you are talking about so that people will keep a good opinion of you. If it appears you do not know what you are speaking about you take the risk of alienating some people. Another method Lincoln used to influence people was through the use of conversation and storytelling.

Effective communication came naturally to him. He was able to speak to anyone and worked stories and anecdotes into the conversation. Lincoln had perfect timing and always had the perfect story or joke to fit the situation. Chatting informally with people allows a leader to find out how people really feel. Stories can be used as motivational tools and can spread loyalty, commitment and enthusiasm for the goals of the organization. Lincoln would make periodic visits to the troops in order to reaffirm his vision and to inspire the troops. He needed to make sure that his vision would continue to be accepted.

The troop’s acceptance is almost guaranteed when they know what they were doing was appreciated and that they were actually making a difference. Acceptance of the vision will keep everyone motivated and keep them pushing toward attainment of the goals. People need to be reminded of where they are headed and the reasons for it in order to be energized and ensure success for the vision. By reading Donald T. Phillips book on Lincoln’s leadership abilities we can see many great methods used by him that are still applicable today. Great leadership will never go out of style and the methods given by Phillips are something everyone can emulate.

Phillips noted Lincoln’s leadership methods as being among the people, building alliances, use of persuasion, use of honesty, lack of spite, being able to handle criticism, being a paradox, decisiveness, lead by being led, setting goals and work toward results, finding a strong chief subordinate, encouraging innovation, use of public speaking, influencing through conversation, and having a vision and always talk of the vision. All of these can be used through the knowledge of timing and hard work. Seeing that these methods have been used and that they work can help all of us to become better leaders.

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