Abraham Lincoln on Leadership

Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln became the United States’ 16th President in 1861, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy in 1863.

Imagine becoming the CEO of a corporation but you never had a college education? fighting a stockholder's revolt? marketing an old but unique product in a new form? Not bad for a man who had less than a year of formal education or who had supervised only a clerk in his law office before becoming president of the United States.

Lesson 1: Share a Vision

William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, described the sixteenth president as "a little engine of ambition." Lincoln had the vision to make something of himself. He may have started out as a farmer but he did not intend to stay one for the rest of his life. Lincoln studied surveying and the law to get ahead.

Lesson 2: Be a Great Communicator

Abraham Lincoln knew how to communicate his core beliefs to his audience through humor, speeches, and letters to newspaper editors.

Lesson 3: Be a Lifelong Learner

Leaders are readers. Be a self-learner. Grow yourself. Abraham Lincoln had less than a year of formal schooling but he learned how to learn on his own for the rest of his life.

Lesson 4: Demand Excellence for Yourself

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was not a last-minute improvised speech that he hurriedly cobbled together on an envelope in the train. Lincoln gave himself enough time to do an excellent job despite a hectic schedule at the White House in the midst of the Civil War.

Lesson No. 5: Learn From Failure

Lincoln failed in business at age 22; defeated for Illinois State Assembly at age 23; failed again in business at age 24; suffered a nervous breakdown at age 27; defeated again for Speaker of the Illinois State Assembly at age 29; defeated again for presidential elector at age 31; defeated again for US Congress at age 34; defeated again for US Congress at age 39; defeated again for US Senate at age 46; defeated again for Vice president of the newly formed Republican party at age 47; defeated again for the US Senate when he ran against Stephen A. Douglas at age 49; elected President of the United States at age 51. Lincoln was willing to risk failure, in order to experience success. He was not a case of overnight success.

Lesson No. 6: Be a Role Model

Lincoln taught by example. For example, he was well known for his sense of compassion. Even Lincoln's children got into the act. His two youngest sons, Willie and Tad, sentenced one of their toy soldiers to death for sleeping on guard duty. Lincoln who had a way with children, wrote out a full parson which he gravely signed as "A. Lincoln.

Lesson No. 7: Believe in Yourself When No One Else Does by Having the Courage of Your Convictions

People asked Lincoln why he was confident about what he did. He answered, "I desire to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reigns of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me."

Lesson 8: If I am Not For Myself, Who Will be?

Abraham Lincoln published his own version of the 1858 Lincoln Douglas debates. He distributed this nationally to promote his political career. He also wrote follow up letters to key political leaders to enhance his availability as a presidential candidate

Lesson 9: Be a Decision maker

Lincoln reflected and led public opinion at the same time. Although Lincoln wanted to eventually abolish slavery, he could not be too far ahead of public opinion. A politician out of office cannot do any good. Lincoln issued Emancipation Proclamation when he educated public opinion to be in favor of it.

Lesson 10: Be a Team Leader

Lincoln knew how to create a team. Every member of Lincoln's cabinet thought they should have been president instead of him! Together, they won the Civil War.

Lesson 11: Doing the Little Things Lead to the Big Things

Abraham Lincoln also started by doing little assignments to the best of his ability. During his childhood, he honed his skills in storytelling and joke-telling. His brief stint as captain of a militia company, his first elective office, gave him confidence in his leadership ability. All these experiences served him well when he began his political career.

Lesson 12: Show Compassion

We know Lincoln to be a great leader, a great visionary, and a great speaker. But his greatest strength was that he was a man of great compassion. Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, reached the height of his compassion when he declared: "With malice toward none; with charity for all." Theodore Roosevelt observed, Lincoln offered the hand of compassion to the fallen South instead of the kick of revenge. Lincoln's legacy of compassion healed the breach between the north and the south.

Summary and Conclusion

Why does Lincoln live on in the nation's memory? Lincoln knew how to inspire people to do their best. Lincoln knew how to learn from his mistakes so that he could go on. Lincoln had an inner vision of himself that could not be shaken by the naysaying. His leadership and his ideals remain timeless.

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