Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Six leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln

I finished two audiobooks with wonderful leadership teachings: “Team of Rivals” by Doris K. Goodwin and “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua W. Shenk

Both books provide excellent leadership lessons from one of the best US presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Since early childhood, Lincoln, the son of two uneducated farmers, demonstrated superior intellectual ability, in the rural area of New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln a self-educated person started his political and professional career in his early twenties. He became lawyer, and later in 1860 Lincoln was elected as the 16th US President. During his presidency (1861-1865), Abraham Lincoln successfully managed one of the most difficult times in US history: the American civil war. He did so, preserving unity in the nation, and ending slavery.

Lincoln had an inclination to arts and poetry. He was a sensible man that suffered from melancholy. In his youth, Lincoln learned about his melancholic condition, later in his early adulthood he learned mechanisms to cope with his disease, and during his adulthood, he put those mechanisms in practice to manage not only his depressive moods, but the critical situation that was present in the country. Rather than a weakness, Lincoln’ melancholy harnessed his best human qualities and helped him become a great leader.

The six leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln:

  1. Solid values and the genuine desire to improve conditions in the world.
    Lincoln was guided by solid values, his actions were ruled by what was correct to do, not by what he liked or disliked. His word and his reputation were his most important assets.

  2. Political savvy.
    Lincoln saw the “business case” for ending slavery. His views for ending slavery helped him won the US Presidency and the
    Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves from southern states and helped to put an end to the civil war.

  3. Ability to manage a group of high performers toward a single purpose.
    Lincoln integrated his government with the best people, even if they had different political views. Lincoln had superior empathy skills that allowed him to understand other’s point of view and engage them in a purposeful and meaningful agenda.

  4. Realism to see things as they were.
    Lincoln’s melancholy helped him to develop a sense of realism. He was exposed to constant personal suffering that gave him clarity to see things as they were, with no make up, and to be prepared for the worst.

  5. Ability to learn and renew.
    Lincoln was a self-educated person. Reading gave him important knowledge. Additionally, his melancholy helped him to learn mechanisms to manage his depressive moods and quickly recover from pain and frustration. People are frequently conditioned to avoid pain and frustration, but by doing that people also miss key learning. Rather than run from painful or uncomfortable situations, we have to learn from them --like Lincoln did with his melancholy.

  6. Courage to carry-out his agenda.
    Lincoln never feared for his personal safety. He knew that he had something important to achieve in his life. He made it, although he was shot in his last year of President.

Does leadership pay?
Yes, leadership pays, and history rewards true leaders.

A word of caution, leadership is not a comfortable state. Leadership is dangerous, because leadership stands for better conditions and frequently confronts status-quo. Leadership is not an easy solution either; leadership is a long-term objective. Leadership requires solid values, commitment, and courage.
The world needs true leaders. Leaders with ethical values, able to understand and put in practice the essence of democracy, leaders that commit to higher causes, and work to improve social, economic, political, and environmental conditions in the world.
What is the purpose of your life? Can you improve conditions in the world? What will be your legacy?

Listen to your inner voice and let the leader inside of you emerge!

Wolf, S.J.; Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Unabrigued (Audiobook); 2005.

Kearns G. D.; Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster; Unabrigued (Audiobook), NY; 2005


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