Leadership Lessons from Lincoln

Team of Rivals book cover
Team of Rivals book cover

I just finished reading “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  It is a massive but very readable study of how Abraham Lincoln brought together his cabinet during his presidency, comprised mostly of leaders who had been his opponents!  Lincoln has been the focus of  many books, and for good reason.  I have always admired him greatly from when I was a kid reading my first biographies of him to standing in awe at his seated likeness at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to reading quotes attributed to him.  I have often reminded myself of two statements he made that have inspired and encouraged me: “I will prepare myself, and my day will come” and “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no other place to go.”

After reading Goodwin’s book, I am even more of an admirer of Abraham Lincoln!  While it is impossible to recount all I learned from “Team of Rivals” I found myself reflecting on some significant leadership lessons about leadership, working with people and building a team.  Here are my “top ten” leadership lessons from Lincoln from this book:

  1. Keep the big picture in mind.  Don’t let little issues distract or dissuade you from your true priorities.
  2. Be a bigger person than other’s pettiness.
  3. Listen well to other’s concerns even when you don’t agree with them.
  4. Patience gives God time to work in others…and on your behalf.  Let Him work.
  5. Build a team that has a blend of views and strong competencies.
  6. Personal reputation is forged over time…do what is right and God will take care of your reputation.
  7. Relational skills are just as important as “technical skills”—knowing how to work with people makes the biggest difference in the end.
  8. Take time to relax and recharge your batteries.
  9. Read widely.  Learn from history, His Story (God’s Word) and other’s wisdom.
  10. Treat people right even when they treat you wrong.  You reap what you sow.

After reading this book I was again humbled by the magnitude of what the Lord did in and through Abraham Lincoln in the face of immense pressures from circumstances and people.  Yet, he persevered through it all and left us a tremendous legacy of leadership.  He still teaches us today…and I am a grateful learner. 

Tim Roehl

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