In what ways did Abraham Lincoln practice leadership with regards to endeavors and communication that makes him one of the best leaders of all time?


This next paper continues the exploration of leadership philosophies through the experiences of Abraham Lincoln. This paper covers the sections referred to as Endeavor and Communication.  Reflect on your own experiences where you are or were the decision maker. Do you share the same philosophies as Lincoln? Have your leaders or mentors used these philosophies with you? How might you approach your followers different than Lincoln and/or your leaders or mentors? Please share your feelings and illustrate with specific examples. As always, in addition to the required readings you may use other articles or texts to illustrate your points, please be sure to cite them.

Specifics (Requirements):

Read 4 selected chapters (between Chapters 8-15) in Lincoln on Leadership identifying characteristics and competencies of the leadership qualities of Lincoln focused on Endeavor and Communication that identify ways in which he practiced as a successful leader and how those qualities fit into your own experiences and aspirations as a leader.  Write a scholarly integration paper (following formatting requirements identified in the Syllabus) that address the following learning objectives.  In addition, based upon your conclusions regarding characteristics and competencies, make sure to back up your conclusions with evidence from the book using appropriate APA-style citations.

Fundamental Learning Question:  In what ways did Abraham Lincoln practice leadership with regards to endeavors and communication that makes him one of the best leaders of all time?

Learning Objectives:

      1. Identify leadership approaches of Abraham Lincoln regarding endeavor and communication that they admire.
      2. Support through history why those leadership practices help identifies the president as a qualified and successful leader.
      3. Compare and contrast those qualities in themselves to those they have identified in Abraham Lincoln.
      4. Analyze their own leadership and those whom they have admired with respect to effective practices of leadership.







Some single mind must be master, else there will be no agreement in anything. . . .

Part of Lincoln’s firm stance regarding new elections in the State of Arkansas (February 17, 1864)


8 –  Exercise a Strong Hand .. Be Decisive

Abraham Lincoln is generally regarded as the first modern president in several respects.  While he is most famous for freeing the slaves and preserving the federal Union, he also greatly expanded the limits of American presidential authority and power.  In fact, even though it was not his original intention, he practically redefined the presidency while, at the same time, notably revising the American constitutional system.

Faced with the potential dissolution of the Union and overthrow of the government, Lincoln acted and reacted by creating new limits of authority and leadership under the pressure of dire civil strife.  The nation, after all, was undergoing a civil war-something that no previous president had been forced to deal with and something that the Founding Fathers had not specifically provided for in the Constitution.  Circumstances forced Lincoln to be innovative, and he justified his expansion of authority by invoking a new interpretation of the presidential oath regarding the Constitution itself.

My oath … imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government-that nation–of which that Constitution was the organic law.  Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the Constitution?  By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb.  I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation.


Now, if this passage, written by Lincoln to Albert Hodges in April 1864, were to be read by someone who did not have a general concept of his broad assumption of authority and power, the question might arise: ‘What did Lincoln do?’ A better question might be, however, ‘What did Lincoln not do?” In truth, he was so decisive that he left virtually no stone unturned.  He took advantage of nearly every situation at hand.  Confusion, desperation, and urgency all combined to give Lincoln the perfect opportunity to act.  The nation needed a leader’s strong hand, and Lincoln provided it.

Within weeks of the firing on Fort Sumter, the president issued a call for troops, one of at least ten such orders he would make over the next four years. (Lincoln was the first president to enact conscription, on August 4, 1862, as a way of raising an army to fight a war.) He issued proclamations directing a blockade of the Confederate states from Virginia to Texas.  He declared martial law by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed the military to make arrests without specific charges.  This one act alone overshadowed his primary purpose, which was to protect the nation from spies and traitors, in that it created such widespread dissent among citizens and other government officials that it almost backfired.  Chief justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney assailed Lincoln on the matter, claiming that only Congress had the right to suspend habeas corpus.  The Democratic party and its friendly press had a field day labeling the president a dictator and a tyrant.  But through it all Lincoln stood firm, and he continued to suspend the writ as he saw the need.  Lincoln’s interpretation of presidential war powers stretched the meaning of the Constitution to its limit, and future presidents would cite his actions as justification for their own.


Early in his first term, Lincoln was constantly pressured by key advisers to capitulate to the South’s demands to avoid a bloody conflict.  On one occasion, he was advised by a Virginian to surrender all forts and property in the Southern states.  Lincoln immediately rejected the option by telling Aesop’s parable of the lion and the woodman’s daughter:

A lion was very much in love with a woodman’s daughter.  The fair maid referred him to her father and the lion applied for the girl.  The father replied: ‘Your teeth are too long.’ So the lion went to a dentist and had them extracted.  Returning, he asked for his bride.  ‘No,’ said the woodman, ‘your claws are too long.’ Going back to the dentist, he had them drawn.  Then he returned to claim his bride, and the woodman, seeing that he was unarmed, beat out his brains.


‘May it not be so with me,’ concluded the president, ‘if I give up all that is asked?’

The decision to resupply Fort Sumter, rather than evacuate or commence hostilities, turned out to be a shrewd move on Lincoln’s part.  Not only was it consistent with the strategy he outlined in his inaugural address but, once the Confederates fired on the fort, the president was provided with an opportunity that justified strong, decisive action.  It was the start of the Civil War, and public opinion in the North clamored for immediate retaliation.  Don E. Fehrenbacher, a prominent  Lincoln scholar, has noted that because it was an act of war, it provided a constitutional basis for vigorous executive action that had hitherto been lacking.  And, because, coming as it did when Congress was not in session, the Fort Sumter episode gave Lincoln the opportunity to seize the initiative from the legislative branch-an initiative that he never relinquished.’ It is also significant to note that the president did not call Congress into special session until July 4, 1861, thereby giving him almost three months to act on his own.

During his administration, Lincoln set a precedent of directing the expenditure of money without the official approval of Congress.  For example, he ordered Secretary of the Treasury Chase to give $2 million to three New York businessmen for the purpose of aiding the military buildup.  He ordered the Navy to purchase twenty new ships and appropriated money for Stanton and Seward to use in carrying out the suspension of the writ of habeas Cars.  He also allocated money to ‘encourage inun-nigration.’  (?)

In running the administration’s war effort, Lincoln did everything from asking Gen.  Winfield Scott to ‘make short, comprehensive reports to me’ to completely revamping and reorganizing the American military command system.  He issued numerous formal ‘War Orders’ in an effort to get his generals moving, and he revoked orders and proclamations issued by his generals that had not been approved by him.  On one hand, Lincoln wanted his generals to take action on their own; on the other, he would not allow them to dictate policy, which he deemed should come only from him.

The president did not always take kindly to people who were not involved in the day-to-day operations of the government making demands upon him or telling him how he should run the war effort.  But, rather than harshly turning away such individuals, Lincoln would ease them out of his office with a short, appropriate anecdote.  For example, when a delegation of politicians from the West invaded his office making excited demands, he simply shut them off by responding:

Gentlemen, suppose all the property you were worth was in gold and this you had placed in the hands of [one man] to carry across the Niagara River on a rope.  Would you shake the cable and keep shouting at him: ‘Stand up a little straighter; stoop a little more, go a little faster, go a little slower, lean a little more to the south?’ No, you would hold your breath, as well as your tongue, and keep your hands off until he got safely over.

The Government is carrying an enormous weight.  Untold treasure is in their hands.  Don’t badger them.  Keep silence and we will get you safely across.


On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln did something that he felt he had very little constitutional authority to do: He issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  At the advice of Secretary Seward, Lincoln timed its issuance to occur after a major Union victory, which, by chance, turned out to include the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, McClellan’s victory at Antietam, Maryland.  The document, which was to become the most controversial and the most important of his presidency, proclaimed that all slaves living in any state not in the Union by January 1, 1863, would be ‘henceforward, and forever free.’ When Secretary Chase suggested to Lincoln that he extend emancipation to other areas, the president refused to consider it:


The original proclamation, has no constitutional or legal justification, except as a military measure.  The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities.  Nor does that necessity apply to them now any more than it did then.  If I take the step must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so without any argument except the one that I think the measure politically expedient and morally right?  Would I not thus give up all footing upon Constitution or law?

Lincoln accurately surmised that any freeing of the slaves elsewhere would alienate the border states, and the Union could not afford to lose any more states than it had already lost.  Part of the ‘military necessity’ justification for the proclamation was the inference that freed blacks could be used in the armed forces.  This bold decision resulted in a substantial increase in the number of Northern troops.  However, on February 1, 1865, not three months before his death, Lincoln approved and signed the resolution submitting the Thirteenth Amendment (Abolition of Slavery) to the states for ratification.

In helping to restore the Confederate states and their citizens to the Union, Lincoln was resourceful and explicit in taking decisive executive action.  In his annual message to Congress of December 8, 1863, the president outlined his proposed ‘ten percent’ plan whereby any seceded state, in order to return to the Union, was required to have no less than ten percent of its citizens who voted in 1860 take an oath of allegiance to the United States.  Upon doing so, the states could then organize their own government and could have senators and representatives readmitted to Congress, provided they agreed to recognize the abolishment of slavery and educate newly emancipated slaves.  The oath, in essence, also offered amnesty to nearly everyone who participated in the rebellion.

Initially Lincoln’s plan of reconstruction received favorable reviews.  Most of Congress, however, thought it a bit too lenient, and in 1864 they conceived and passed the harsher Wade-Davis Bill, which required a ‘fifty percent” number swearing allegiance.  Knowing that obtaining such a majority of citizens would be difficult, the president, on July 4, pocket-vetoed the bill and, just four days later, released a statement explaining his actions.  He found the Wade-Davis Bill ‘to be inflexibly committed to [a] single plan of restoration,’ and he did not wish to ‘set aside the already adopted and installed governments in Arkansas and Louisiana.’ In issuing this statement clarifying his reasons for not signing the bill, Lincoln was doing something that most modern presidents are now forced to do: He was explaining himself to the American people through the press.  The president, Lincoln believed, was a servant of and answered to the people; as such, the public had a right to know why he made the decision.

Lincoln could also be decisive and tough with his direct subordinates when he was forced to do so.  Several members of the presidents cabinet proved to be quite difficult.  One problem individual was Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who was obsessed with becoming president himself, so much so that everyone in Washington knew it, including Lincoln.  One might question Lincoln’s judgment in retaining Chase when his motives were so obvious.  But Chase was a competent, able administrator, and Lincoln needed him to help run the government and raise money to pay for the war effort.

Lincoln often accepted the aggravation and exasperation caused by subordinates if they did their jobs competently.  Unfortunately, Chase would continually precipitate problems for the president.  The two often clashed over policy matters, large and small.  Chase demanded complete control over appointments to the Treasury Department, and there were a great many such placements.  For the most part, Lincoln let Chase have his way and seldom interfered.  However, on two occasions when the president did step in and overrule Treasury appointments, Chase submitted his resignation in protest.  He also resigned on one occasion when, in February 1864, a press circular prematurely exposed his movement to replace Lincoln as the Republican presidential nominee.  When asked what he was going to do about Chase’s ambition to become president, Lincoln responded with a story of how he and his brother were once plowing corn with a lazy horse:

On reaching the end of the furrow, I found an enormous chin-fly fastened upon [the horse], and knocked him off.  My brother asked me what I did that for.  I told him I didn’t want the old horse bitten in that way.  ‘Why,’ said my brother, ‘that’s all that made him go.’


Now, if Mr. Chase has a Presidential chin-fly biting him, I’m not going to knock him off, if it will only make his department go.


In all, Salmon P. Chase formally offered to resign four times over the course of the administration.  He used this tactic at times as a ploy to get his way with the president.  However, the last time he did it, on June 29, 1864, Lincoln surprised him – he accepted his resignation and forced him to leave the administration.  At this point, their relationship had been reduced to one where they communicated mostly by formal, frigid memorandums, and Lincoln simply had enough.  The next day, he sent Chase this final memo:




June 30, 1864

Hon.  Salmon P. Chase


My dear Sir.

Your resignation of the office of Secretary of the Treasury, sent me yesterday, is accepted.  Of all I have said in commendation of your ability and fidelity, I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relation which it seems can not be overcome, or longer sustained, consistently with the public service.


Your Obt.  Servt.

  1. Lincoln


When word got out that Lincoln had dismissed his secretary of the treasury, Chase’s friends in the Senate stormed the White House to demand justification.  The president, however, remained firm in his decision.  He specified the former secretary’s inflexibility regarding appointments and spoke of their unworkable relationship.  Lincoln told the senators that he had no choice, under the circumstances, but to let him go.  The next day, the president astonished everyone by appointing one of Chase’s strongest supporters, Sen. William P. Fessenden, to be the new secretary of the treasury.  Lincoln had made an immediate political decision, in part to pacify the liberal Republican opposition to Chase’s dismissal.

As for Chase, who thought that his public service career was at an end, Lincoln appointed him to be the new chief justice of the Supreme Court.  When protests came against this move, Lincoln responded publicly by saying:

Chase is a very able man.  He is a very ambitious man and I think on the subject of the presidency a little insane.  He has not always behaved very well lately and people say to me, ‘Now is the time to crumb him out.’ Well, I’m not in favor of crushing anybody out!  If there is anything that a man can do and do it well, I say let him do it.  Give him a chance.


Privately, however, Lincoln may have been having second thoughts, because he was later reported to have remarked that he ‘would rather have swallowed his buckhorn chair than to have nominated Chase.’ In an ironic twist of fate, it was Salmon P. Chase who administered the oath of office to Abraham Lincoln upon the occasion of his second inaugural.

The president also surprised his postmaster general, Montgomery Blair, on September 23, 1864, with a directive that stated in part: ‘You have generously said to me more than once, that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my disposal.  The time has come.” Lincoln removed Blair partly because of the secretary’s denunciation of Chase, Seward, and Stanton in public, and partly because he was indiscreet and argued openly with the radical Republican members of Congress on policy matters.  With the election of 1864 nearing, Lincoln concluded that Blair must go for him to consolidate support within his own party.

Lincoln had the will and the ability to make tough decisions when necessary.  And he did not hesitate once he was convinced that swift action had to take place.  However, it is certain that for every crucial decision of his administration Lincoln thought things out well in advance.  In fact, he employed a classic decision-making sequence of events that began with an understanding of all the facts that were involved, often obtaining this information himself by venturing into the field.  Lincoln would also consider a variety of possible solutions and the consequences of each.  Finally, he would assure himself that any action taken would be consistent with his administrative and personal policy objectives.  And then he would effectively communicate his decision and implement it.


What would have been the consequences had Lincoln not been decisive?  We can only shudder at the thought.  We certainly recognize that his decisiveness enacted extraordinary change.  He literally changed attitudes, behaviors, and the way people lived their lives.  He altered the face of the nation forever by abolishing the institution of slavery and not allowing the South to secede.  And, what is more, he actually intended to do both, which, almost by definition, makes him a great leader.  He set his goals, preached his vision, and accomplished his mission.

Like Lincoln, the best, most decisive leaders are those who have a set purpose and the self-confidence to accomplish that objective.  But effective visions and noble goals can be made worthless without solid decision-making leadership, especially in today’s fast-paced, competitive business environment where decisions are almost never simply black and white.  Often, all the information is not available and an important decision must be made by a certain deadline.  Short-term solutions are frequently at odds with long-term goals.  Sometimes the leader makes the right choice even though it may not be immediately obvious.  Sometimes he is wrong, and sometimes he chooses to compromise, which can be a major decision in itself Many contemporary leaders view negotiation as a lack of decisiveness, but they forget the words of John F. Kennedy, who reminded us that compromise need not mean cowardice.’

Business executives know that it is sometimes difficult to implement decisions that have major impact on an organization.  Willingness to make change is not easy to come by, and bureaucratic stumbling blocks are often seemingly impossible to overcome.  But decisions must be made, and they must be consistent for any organization to be successful.  Consider for a moment what a company is like without effective decisiveness: Nothing happens and opportunities are lost.  People wander about aimlessly, aggressive employees become frustrated, and lethargic employees are not motivated.

But in a corporation with decisive leaders the atmosphere is dynamic and vibrant.  People move with a spring in their step and purpose in their direction.  Opportunity seeks out the company, and the well-focused firm-one backed by solid vision and well thought out goals-almost always succeeds.

Abraham Lincoln understood that executive decision making is not simply a string of individual orders.  Rather, it is more of a continuous, uninterrupted process that is similar to the beating of a heart that sends blood throughout a body.  Without it there is no life.

Competent executive decision-making is crucial in any organization.  Abraham Lincoln knew it.  And because of his extraordinary decisiveness, he was able to make policy, produce change, and win the war.


  • An entire organization is never wisely sacrificed to avoid losing one or two small parts.
  • Take advantage of confusion, desperation, and urgency to exercise strong leadership.
  • Seize the initiative and never relinquish it.
  • Don’t give up all your key points of strength or the competition may “beat out your brains.”
  • Never let your immediate subordinate take action upon your responsibility without consulting you first.
  • If you have a subordinate who has a presidential chin-fly biting him, don’t knock it off.
  • When making a decision, understand the facts, consider various solutions and their consequences, make sure that the decision is consistent with your objectives, and effectively communicate your judgment.
  • Remember that compromise does not mean cowardice.
  • Try ballots first; when ballots don’t work, use bullets.



9 –  Lead by Being Led

Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. . . . But what next?  I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen.  Grant and yourself to decide.

Part of Lincoln’s response to General Sherman for his “Christmas gift”-the capture of Savannah (December 26, 1864)



There is much evidence to indicate that Lincoln, largely through his extraordinary assertiveness, stood alone when it came to making major decisions during his presidency.  Even though he often conferred with his advisers on important matters, using them as sounding boards, it is clear that Lincoln made most crucial decisions during his term in office.  He alone bore the responsibility and would answer to the American people for his actions.  While he often disavowed taking the lead in determining the nation’s course of action (he once said, I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me’), it is also clear that Lincoln skillfully steered the ship of state through the perilous waters of the Civil War.  It was Lincoln who led the way while at times giving the impression that he was, rather, following the lead of his subordinates.  And here, in essence, is one of the marks of his true leadership genius.  As Lao Tzu said: ‘Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.  But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, We did this ourselves’.’

Lincoln also had the enviable quality of being able to listen to people and be guided by them without being threatened himself.  He possessed the open-mindedness and flexibility necessary for worthwhile leadership.  Frequently he would listen to his subordinates’ suggestions and recommendations.  If they made sense, and if their course of action matched his own ideas, he would let them proceed with the knowledge and belief that it was their idea.  However, if he was uncomfortable with what was being suggested, Lincoln would focus, direct, or point his people to what he viewed as the proper path.  But rather than ordering or dictating, Lincoln refined his ability to direct others by implying, hinting, or suggesting.

The shrewdness and subtlety with which Lincoln guided people has not generally been recognized.  Often his actions seemed so innocent that contemporaries and subordinates had no inkling that Lincoln’s hand was involved in the circuitous changing of events.  One famous case in point involved the presidents adept handling of Secretary of the Treasury Sahnon P. Chase’s attempts to discredit William Seward in late 1862.  Chase was jealous of Seward’s influence with the president and of their close friendship.  He felt that it was he who should be the chief adviser in the cabinet; in fact, in 1864 he worked behind the scenes in an attempt to wrest the Republican nomination from Lincoln.  Chase had complained to influential Republican senators that Seward exerted undue influence on the president, that he was inept at handling foreign affairs, and that he was the cause of all the problems at the executive level of the government.

After the Confederate victory over General Burnside at Fredericksburg, Virginia, the senators were overly distraught and subsequently met in caucuses to discuss Seward’s position in the cabinet.  They decided to send a delegation of nine to the White House to urge Lincoln to dismiss the secretary of state and reorganize the cabinet.  At their meeting, on December 18, 1862, they accused Seward of endless wrongdoing and told Lincoln that they had it on good authority that the president often failed to consult all members of his cabinet when important decisions were made.  Lincoln asked them to return the following night.  Until then he would consider their concerns and demands.  In the meantime, Seward, incensed over the entire episode, submitted his letter of resignation to the president, who did not act immediately upon it but slipped it in one of his coat pockets.

Lincoln, too, was upset over the sequence of events and the possible repercussions.  He did not want Seward to go, nor did he wish to reorganize any part of his cabinet.  He especially didn’t want Congress dictating to him how he should administer his cabinet and make decisions.  He also correctly deduced that Chase was at the center of all this turmoil.  After much private deliberation Lincoln decided to call all parties (except Seward) together to resolve the situation and force Secretary Chase into a corner.

The next evening he summoned his cabinet to a special session where he explained all that had happened the night before.  When the senators returned to the White House for their scheduled meeting, Lincoln assembled everyone in the same room and asked that all matters of dispute be resolved before anyone left.  All the participants were caught off guard.  The senators did not know that the cabinet was going to be present, nor did the cabinet realize what Lincoln had secretly planned.  Chase was especially distressed.  If he were to support aft that the senators had asserted, his cabinet colleagues and the president were sure to realize that he was the catalyst to all the dissent.  Chase was forced to agree that Lincoln had consulted the cabinet on every important decision, that they were generally in agreement, and that Seward acted properly and honestly in the administration of his duties as secretary of state.  As a result of this meeting, organized and run exclusively by Lincoln, the Republican senators and Chase were thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated.  Chase was exposed as a fraud never to be trusted again, and all charges against Seward were dropped.  Lincoln obtained the results he wanted while seeming to be almost naive in his actions.  He simply got everybody together to talk it out!

The following day, in the presence of Secretary of War Stanton and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Chase tendered his resignation.  ‘Where is it?  Let me have it insisted the president.  Then Stanton, probably surprised by Lincoln’s reaction, impulsively offered his own resignation.  ‘No,’ said Lincoln waving him away, ‘I don’t want yours!’ But, he took Chase’s and, as a result, now had two letters of resignation, one in each of his coat pockets.  A short time later, the exhilarated president told a visitor in private that he ‘could ride now,’ because, ‘I’ve got a pumpkin at each end of my bag.’


So what’s the lesson to be learned from this episode?  Many corporate leaders will recognize Lincoln’s method because it is an often-used technique.  They get all the members of feuding departments together, lock them in a conference room sometimes on a Saturday@and compel them to stay together until peace is made.  Frequently, getting people together can avoid destructive thinking that tends to build on people’s misgivings and apprehensions about others and their departments.

Lincoln’s approach was similar.  Rather than order the disputing parties to stop bickering and get on with their business, or simply announcing his support for Seward and condemning Chase and the senators, Lincoln chose to try and let the individuals involved work out their differences by bringing them together and guiding their dialogue.  Had he dictated, they may have accepted his authority with great resentment.  But the problem would not have gone away.  It would have lingered and festered.  By gathering the disputing parties, Lincoln let his subordinates lead themselves out of the mess.

Another habit employed by Lincoln in his strategy of  ‘leading while being led” was to always give credit where credit was due and, conversely, to accept responsibility when things went wrong.  Not only did this satisfy Lincoln’s need for honesty, integrity, and human dignity; it also gave his subordinates the correct perception that they were, in many ways, doing the leading, not Lincoln.  If nothing else, it made them feel good about their jobs.  It also encouraged innovation and risk taking because they knew that if they failed, Lincoln would not blame them.

When a subordinate did a good job, Lincoln praised, complimented, and rewarded the ‘individual.  On the other hand, he shouldered responsibility when mistakes were made.  The president, for example, readily accepted responsibility for the battles lost during the Civil War.  He tried to let his generals know that if they failed, he too failed.  The loss of the second battle of Bull Run, for example, created a great deal of anger in Washington, most of it directed at Gen.  George McClellan because he failed to provide field commander John Pope with appropriate support.  It was generally believed at the time that McClellan wanted Pope to fail.  As a result, several angered cabinet officers signed a letter of protest condemning McClellan for his conduct during the battle and demanded his dismissal.  Lincoln chose instead to appoint McClellan to the command of the forces in Washington.  The cabinet members first heard of the appointment together in session with the president, and an infuriated Secretary of War Stanton exclaimed that no such order had been issued from the War Department.  Lincoln then responded somewhat calmly, ‘No, Mr. Secretary, the order was mine; and I will be responsible for it to the country.’ Lincoln felt that McClellan should not have to bear the entire burden for the loss.  He also felt that there were no other officers who were better suited to the command.  So, after the battle, he appointed McClellan at the risk of having his entire cabinet resign.

Throughout the war Lincoln continued to accept public responsibility for battles lost or opportunities missed.  In the days following the battle of Gettysburg, for example, the president was distressed at General Meade’s delay in pursuing Robert E. Lee before his army made it back across the Potomac River.  Well after the battle, in an attempt to spur the general into active confrontation with Lee, the president sent him a letter through General Halleck urging an immediate attack.  ‘If General Meade can now attack him on a field no worse than equal for us,’ said Lincoln, ‘and will do so with all the skill and courage, which he, his officers, and men possess, the honor will be his if he succeeds, and the blame may be mine if he fails.”

And within a few weeks after Ulysses Grant captured Vicksburg, Lincoln sent his victorious general a personal letter of commendation in which he admitted that he had initially questioned Grane’s strategy but now praised him for his efforts:

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally.  I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country.  I wish to say a word fin-ther.  When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg . . . I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I that the expedition could succeed. . . . I feared it was a mistake.  I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.


Why was it important that Lincoln send this letter to Grant?  Because, in doing so, he was directly informing his general that the president and the government genuinely appreciated and approved of his actions.  This would spur Grant to continue his aggressive style, which, of course, is exactly what Lincoln wanted.  Indirectly, Lincoln was also saying that he would not take credit for the generals successes, which appealed to Graces ego and sense of self-worth.


During the war, Lincoln sent similar letters to generals who had taken the initiative and achieved distinction.  On December 26, 1864, he wrote to General Sherman:

Many, many, thanks for your Christmas gift-the capture of Savannah.  When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful. . . . Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. . . . But what next?  I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen.  Grant and yourself to decide.


Sherman’s response to this conimunique is a perfect illustration of why it is important for contemporary leaders to emulate Lincoln’s style.

I am gratified at the receipt of your letter, especially to observe that you appreciate the division I made of my army. . . . Should I venture too much and happen to lose I shall bespeak your charitable influence. . . . I am ready [to move again] as soon as I can learn of . . . your preference of objectives.


Sherman was more willing to act on his own now.  All Lincoln had to do at this point was to provide some broad guidance, and Sherman would do the rest.  If leaders do enough of this-if they praise good work and encourage more of the same-then eventually they will be able to relax and let their subordinates do most of the work.  And all the leader will have to do is guide them in the proper direction.

Lincoln continued this laudatory style right up to the final days of his life.  During his last public address, made to a gathering of people outside the White House on the evening of April 11, 1865, he was filled with modesty for himself and praise for the soldiers who had won the Union victory: ‘No part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine,’ he asserted.

‘To General Grant, his skillful officers, and brave men, all belongs.’

Any leader can learn from Abraham Lincoln’s standard.  He had great confidence in his own competence and ability to perform.  He was not insecure and did not feel threatened by others.  He was flexible, open-minded, and willing to let his subordinates take all the glory for victories.

He gave people the impression that they were leading him.  And, in fact, he did give many of his subordinates the lead.  But he always exerted some control.  He stayed informed of their activity.  When their ideas and actions matched his general direction and if he thought there was merit in the means to achieve the overall goal, Lincoln let his subordinates follow through.  However, if they were deviating from the proper path, Lincoln guided them back on course.  And when the means were inadequate to achieve the goal, he tended to talk them out of it or, when necessary, use his power to overrule.  But Lincoln’s chief objective was to allow his subordinates to say, ‘We accomplished this ourselves.’

If you are a good leader, when your work is done, your aim fulfilled, your people will say, “We did this ourselves.”


  • Try not to feel insecure or threatened by your followers.
  • Let disputing parties work out their differences by bringing them together and guiding their dialogue.
  • Always let your subordinates know that the honor will be all theirs if they succeed and the blame will be yours if they fail.
  • Write letters to your subordinates making the personal acknowledgment that they were right and you were wrong.
  • When your subordinates come up with good ideas, let them go ahead and try.  But monitor their progress.
  • If your commanders in the field can’t be successful, neither can you or your executive staff.
  • Never forget that your organization does not depend on the life of any one individual.
  • The greatest credit should be given to those in your organization who render the hardest work.
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10  –  Set Goals and Be Results Oriented

“I think Lee’s army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. . . . Fight him when opportunity offers.  If he stays where he is, fret him, and fret him.”


Lincoln’s response to Gen.  Joe Hooker, who’d asked for permission to advance on the Confederate capital rather than engage the enemy in combat (June 10, 1863)


Leadership requires aggressive individuals-those who accept a ‘take charge’ role.  Leaders, in general, are self-starting and change-oriented.  They set a strategic direction and initiate as well as act.  They achieve results as opposed to only carrying out activity.

For Lincoln, the need to achieve was more than just a simple inclination; it was an almost uncontrollable obsession.  His law partner, William Herndon, noted that he was ‘always calculating and planning ahead.’ Lincoln’s ambition, wrote Herndon, ‘was a tittle engine that knew no rest.’ In the early years, Lincoln tried several different careers in his quest to succeed in life.  He ran a general store, was a postmaster, a surveyor, and eventually a lawyer and politician.  His near compulsive persistence is evident over the course of his entire political career.  He was a tireless worker, campaigner, and public speaker.

As a young man, Lincoln tended to be overly ambitious.  In 1838, at the age of twenty-nine, delivering one of his more famous speeches to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Lincoln provided some insight into his own personality when he stated: ‘Towering genius disdains a beaten path.  It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. . . . It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious.  It thirsts and burns for distinction. . . .’

Lincoln’s unyielding drive and aggressiveness was part of his genetic makeup.  It was a personal quality, one characteristic of many great leaders.  For example, in their early years Roosevelt, Churchill, and Gandhi clearly demonstrated active ambition and an inclination toward attaining a higher station in life.  This character trait is a vehicle they all employed to carry out their mission in life.

Without question, Abraham Lincoln ‘thirsted’ and ‘burned’ for distinction.  Yet, even though he often became depressed at failure and setbacks, Lincoln developed the enviable ability to persevere and learn from his own failures.  Later in life he turned defeat into eventual victory.  No endeavor became a hindrance to his overarching goal to achieve.  In fact, everything-failures and successes-became stepping-stones to the presidency.  In this sense, Lincoln’s entire life prepared him for his future executive leadership role.

After his disappointing defeat for the Senate seat won by Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, Lincoln wrote: ‘The fight must go on.  The cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one or even one hundred defeats.’ He wrote to Alexander Sympson of his ‘abiding faith that we shall beat them in the long run.  Step by step the objects of the leaders will become too plain for the people to stand them. . . . I am neither dead nor dying.’

Such extraordinary perseverance helped propel Lincoln to the presidency in 1860.  As an executive leader, he channeled this intensity toward the personal goal of preserving the United States of America.  And it was progress toward that goal that Lincoln demanded most, not only of himself, but of those who reported to him.

Establishing goals and gaining their acceptance from subordinates is crucial for effective leadership.  Goals unify people, motivate them, focus their talent and energy.  Lincoln united his followers with the ‘corporate mission” of preserving the Union and abolishing slavery, and this objective became more firm and resolute with the onslaught of civil war.  Even so, Lincoln realized that the attainment of a successful outcome had to be accomplished in steps.  So he constantly set specific short-term goals that his generals and cabinet members could focus on with intent and immediacy.  Early in the conflict, he established such strategic objectives as blockading key Southern ports, gaining control of the Mississippi River, and rebuilding and training the military.  Throughout the war, he concentrated on the destruction of Lee’s army as opposed to the capture of the Confederate capital.  And he took one battle at a time rather than trying to win them all at once.  Toward the end of hostilities, Lincoln’s strategy was to set the stage for peaceful and smooth restoration of the Union.  Always, he was working toward achieving goals and objectives.  Like all great leaders, Lincoln was driven.  He was results oriented.


In the day-to-day performance of his duties as president, Lincoln worked long, exhaustive hours.  Often he’d labor late into the night attending to the vast amount of paperwork that came with the job.  Then, rather than retiring, he’d visit the War Department to ‘see if there is any news,’ as he would say.  He was a positive model for subordinates, displaying remarkable persistence.  He attempted to instill the same tenacity and sense of urgency in his generals.  ‘Delay is ruining us,’ he would write to them.  ‘Time is everything!’ he would say.  His purpose was to be ‘just and fair,’ he wrote to New York governor Horatio Seymour, ‘and yet to not lose time.’ And when Gen.  David Hunter grumbled and complained after being placed in charge of a mere 3,000 men, Lincoln wired back:

‘Act well your part, there all the honor lies.  He who does something at the head of one Regiment, will eclipse him who does nothing at the head of a hundred.’


In the adept and forceful handling of his cabinet officers and generals, Lincoln demonstrated extraordinary perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and interpersonal dashes.  Lincoln did not shun conflict.  Instead he resolved dissension among his subordinates in a timely manner, knowing full well that it could serve only to further delay progress.  Lincoln realized, as do most leaders, that roadblocks and unresolved conflict simply gum up the works and slow achievement.  And he frequently preached this concept to his subordinates.  In one instance, when approached by a general for instructions on how to handle a particularly difficult problem, Lincoln told him to use his own best judgment and then related the story of the old farmer who had the task of ploughing a large field laden with many tree stumps!

It was a terrible place to clear up.  But after a while he got a few things growing-here and there a patch of corn, a few hills of beans, and so on.  One day a stranger stopped to look at his place and wanted to know how he managed to cultivate so rough a spot.  ‘Well,’ was the reply, ‘some of it is pretty rough.  The smaller stumps I can generally root out or bum out; but now and then there is [a large one] that bothers me, and there is no other way but to plough around it.’ Now, General, at such a time as this, troublesome cases are constantly coming up, and the only way to get along at all is to plough around them.

Recent studies in leadership have noted that effective leaders are ‘reliable and tirelessly persistent’ and that they are ‘the most results-oriented people in the world.” Certainly, Lincoln would fit into that mold.  He created a contagious enthusiasm among followers by demonstrating a sense of urgency toward attainment of his goals.  He wanted them all to be like the dog in one of his favorite anecdotes:

A man . . . had a small bull-terrier that could whip all the dogs of the neighborhood.  The owner of a large dog which the terrier had whipped asked the owner of the terrier how it happened that the terrier whipped every dog he encountered.  “That,’ said the owner of the terrier, ‘is no mystery to me; your dog and other dogs get half through a fight before they are ready; now, my dog is always mad!’


Contemporary corporate executives constantly worry about how to keep a fire lit under their employees.  They must continually motivate, cajole, and persuade.  But no one should have to worry about lighting a fire under great leaders.  They don’t need it if they are like Lincoln.  His fire was always burning.


  • Unite your followers with a “corporate mission.”
  • Set specific short-term goals that can be focused on with intent and immediacy by subordinates.
  • Those leaders who achieve something at the head of one group will eclipse those who do nothing at the head of a hundred.
  • Sometimes it is better to plough around obstacles rather than to waste time going through them.
  • Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.
  • Your war will not be won by strategy alone, but more by hard, desperate fighting.
  • Your task will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day and hour, and force it.
  • Remember that half-finished work generally proves to be labor lost.



11- Keep Searching Until You Find Your ‘Grant’

“I can’t spare this man.  He fights.”

Lincoln’s response to critics who urged the dismissal of General Grant after the battle of Shiloh, where Grant had been rumored to be drunk (April 1862)



When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861 he found that the United States was unprepared for war.  The country had an insufficient, poorly trained, and poorly equipped army of only 16,000 men under the command of seventy-five-year-old Gen. Winfield Scott.  He was too old and physically unable to command in the field, and his theories and strategies of warfare were outdated.  What would a contemporary executive leader do when confronted with a situation as severe as this?  Sit back?  Wait and see if someone came forward to handle the problem?  Not so with Lincoln.  He took charge.

Because there was such a paucity of military leadership in 1861, Lincoln was forced to formulate the nation’s war policy himself.  This included everything from drawing up war plans in the War Department offices to directing tactical movements in the field.  In the four years that he was in office, Lincoln completely reorganized and redirected the Armed Forces of the United States.  In fact, he increased the size of the army so substantially that at the end of the war, General Grant was in command of more than half a million men.  Moreover, many of President Lincoln’s changes in the American military command system were permanent.  And his overall design was later used as something of a blueprint for future reorganization.

At the beginning of his relationship with Winfield Scott, Lincoln treated the aging general with great respect.  He called on him at his home or office and often asked his advice on how to conduct the war.  They also discussed basic military strategy and organization.  General Scott’s strategy was to blockade Southern coasts, seize the Mississippi River, keep the Confederates from obtaining its resources, and then to passively sit and wait.  He planned no military invasion of the South; instead, he felt that the North should wait for a strong Northern sentiment in the South to overcome talk of secession.  This strategy, known as the Anaconda Plan, was immediately rejected by Lincoln.  It was essentially a ‘no action’ plan, typical of those adopted by many of Lincoln’s future military leaders.  However, Lincoln did learn a thing or two from his aging general.  He grasped the importance of holding the Mississippi River, which became part of Lincoln’s overall military strategy.  He also implemented a blockade of crucial Southern coasts, as Scott had suggested.  But the new commander-in-chief was going to be much more aggressive in his campaign to preserve the nation.  It was at this point that Lincoln launched his three-year search for a Union general who would do the job for him.  He began a quest that all leaders must embark on.  He started looking for a chief subordinate who craves responsibility, is a risk-taker, and, most importantly, makes things happen.

In early 1861 Lincoln appointed Gen.  Irvin McDowell commanding general of the Army.  Even though McDowell formally reported to General Scott, he was the first in a long line of field commanders appointed by and answering directly to Lincoln.  At this point the president considered Scott a figurehead and consulted with him on an as-needed basis.

McDowell, however, was overwhelmed with the prospect of commanding such a large army and hesitated to take action too quickly.  Rather, he elected to build up and train his forces.  However, after Fort Sumter the president directed McDowell, through General Scott, to engage the enemy at Manassas, Virginia.  It was Lincoln who planned and directed the first major offensive of the Civil War at Bull Run.  When McDowell complained and argued for more time to prepare he found the president firm and unwavering: ‘You are green, it is true,’ Lincoln told him, ‘but they are green, also; you are all green alike. . . .’

By the end of July 1861, it had become clear to Lincoln that McDowell was in over his head and that General Scott would soon have to retire.  Lincoln needed someone who could build, organize, and train an army, and then formulate and implement a military strategy to invade the South.  After four months of command, McDowell demonstrated that he was not going to get the job done.  Lincoln decided it was time to try the flamboyant George B. McClellan.

Lincoln appointed McClellan commander of the Army of the Potomac in July 1861 and, three months later, upon the retirement of Scott, general-in-chief.  McClellan was a man of impeccable credentials and reputation, and he was an excellent organizer.  In truth, Lincoln could not have chosen a better man for the job of staffing, training, and administering the disorganized and defeated troops from the battle of Bull Run.  In the long term, however, McClellan’s negative side overshadowed any good qualities.  Often he overanalyzed and remained inactive.  He simply would not fight.


Nearly three months had passed since McClellan’s appointment as general-in-chief when, on January 27, 1863, President Lincoln attempted to spur McClellan into action by issuing General War Order #I, which stated that February 22 was to be a day for ‘a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces.’ As John Hay noted in his diary, Lincoln ‘wrote it without any consultation and read it to the Cabinet, not for their sanction, but for their information.’ Lincoln was taking charge and implementing a relatively new method.  His chief purpose was to get the war effort off dead center.

But his war order had virtually no effect, and, by early March 1862, General McClellan had still not made any progress in engaging the enemy.  Finally, Lincoln’s own mounting frustration, coupled with increasing pressure from Congress and his cabinet, forced him to take more decisive action to cure the situation.  On March I 1, four and a half months after he had appointed McClellan general-in-chief, Lincoln removed much of the general’s authority, leaving him with only the Army of the Potomac.  At the same time, he created two new departments: The Department of the Mississippi went to Gen.  Henry W. Halleck, and the Mountain Department to Gen.  John.  C. Fremont.  This was a radical change in the organization of the military.  Again, Lincoln made the decision himself, informed his subordinates, and instituted the new procedure.

By removing some of McClellan’s responsibility, Lincoln hoped that the general would somehow be able to devote more time to pursuing the enemy in the field.  The presidents hopes were dashed, however, as McClellan continued to delay while calling for more troops to beef up his army against what he feared was a force that vastly outnumbered his own.  On April 9, 1862, Lincoln wrote a letter to the general urging him to move: ‘And, once more, let me tell you, it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow,’ pleaded the president.  ‘I am powerless to help in this. . . .” In closing, Lincoln stated: ‘I beg to assure you that I have never written you, or spoken to you, in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can.  But you must act.’

Lincoln was stiff offering McClellan moral and strategic support.  At the same time, however, he made it clear that any further delays would not be tolerated.

In early May, after another month of inactivity by the Army, Lincoln, accompanied by secretaries Stanton and Chase, traveled to Fort Monroe to initiate action.  When McClellan declined to join them because, as he said, he was too busy at the front, Lincoln decided to take charge, immediately directing an assault on Norfolk, Virginia.  He ordered the army to bombard the Confederate batteries at Sewall’s Point and then proceeded to the Virginia coast where, after actually walking ashore, he determined a satisfactory place for an amphibious landing of troops.  Lincoln then returned to the Fort and ordered the attack, which resulted in the Union capture of the city.  Chase later recalled that, in his opinion, Norfolk would not have been taken had the president not been right there.  And Lincoln had made good on his remark to his friend Orville Browning back in January when he said: ‘I am thinking of taking the field myself.”

Once again, here is a Lincoln principle that modern leaders should not ignore.  If your chief subordinates do not move and get the job going, then you should act, decisively and without hesitation.  Issue formal ‘war orders’ or, better yet, go to the field and take charge yourself.  Set the tone and give your people a message.  If your followers see you leading the fight, just as Lincoln took Norfolk, there will be no mistaking what you want them to do.

However, this did not seem to affect McClellan, who did not change his ways.  Even though he was supportive, Lincoln knew he must make a change in generals if anything was to be done.  After conferring with Winfield Scott at West Point, Lincoln appointed Henry Halleck as general-in-chief on July 11, 1862, exactly four months since he’d split McClellan’s command into three departments.  McClellan, along with all other generals, would now report to Halleck, a man he’d once commanded.  Once again Lincoln tried a different approach in an effort to shake things up and get something going.  When he appointed Henry Halleck, he had every intention, at first, of letting him run the whole show.  He even authorized Halleck to remove McClellan if he deemed it necessary.

Much to the presidents dismay, Halleck did not relieve McClellan who, even though he had been demoted again, would still not fight.  In mid-September 1862, Robert E. Lee had ventured into Northern territory only to be met by McClellan’s large army.  Outnumbered by almost two to one, Lee valiantly outmaneuvered McClellan again and again, inflicting heavy losses on the Union army.  But sheer numbers forced him to retreat across the Potomac River.  McClellan, feeling that he had won a great victory, wired a message to Washington that his victory was ‘complete.’ Lincoln, however, soon discovered that McClellan had no intention of pursuing Lee’s battered army into Virginia and that, to the general, ‘complete victory’ meant only that he had defended his ground.


Two weeks after the battle, the president visited McClellan at Antietam in an attempt to light a fire under him.  Lincoln lectured McClellan against the dangers of overcautiousness, at the same time telling him that he ‘felt kindly toward him personally.’ Lincoln endeavored to get McClellan to take the offensive, but the general replied only that he would move as soon as he felt ready.  The president, obviously frustrated by his general’s attitude, openly referred to the Army of the Potomac as ‘McClellan’s bodyguard.’ A month after the battle, when McClellan attempted to stall for time by complaining that his horses were worn out, Lincoln fired off a sarcastic reply that read: ‘I have just read your dispatch about sore tongued and fatigued horses.  Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”

McClellan, as Lincoln termed it, had ‘the slows,’ and was now traveling on the same path as had General Scott; the same path on which Halleck would soon follow.  Like Scott, McClellan was being eased out of power.  First he lost full command of the Army (when Lincoln made him only commander of the Army of the Potomac) and then he was forced to report to Halleck.  Eventually, like Scott, he would be out altogether.

This recurring pattern in Lincoln’s treatment of his generals is interesting because it is a familiar tactic used in many organizations today.  When a subordinate is not performing adequately, rather than firing the person outright, some responsibility and authority are removed in the hope that the individual will be able to perform better with fewer responsibilities.  Fairness and human dignity are preserved when this first step is employed; it gives the unsatisfactory performer a chance to ‘turn it around.’ If behavior and performance are not reversed, the next step is to get the individual out of the decision-making process as much as possible.  Having the person report to another superior is a good way to do it.  In McClellan’s case, he reported to Halleck.  In Scott and Halleck’s cases, they became figureheads; all decisions were made by Lincoln and passed through them to preserve protocol.  Eventually, all three generals were removed from command.  Yet, they were eased out in phases, and each phase gave them an opportunity to perform well and regain their prior stature.  This process had two advantages for an outstanding leader like Lincoln.  First, it allowed him to get and keep things moving; and second, it allowed him to preserve the dignity of the individual as much as possible.

When Lincoln first appointed Henry Halleck as general in chief, he thought him well-qualified and a good selection.  Halleck was, after all, a graduate of West Point, a professional soldier who studied war tactics and maneuvers.  He had written a book entitled Elements of Military Art and Science, which Lincoln read in early 1862.  Even his nickname, ‘Old Brains,” tended to make one think he was suited to his new position.  Halleck, however, turned out to be no better than any of his predecessors.  After Gen.  Alexander Pope’s resounding defeat at Second Bull Run, Halleck had recoiled badly, blaming himself for the loss and refusing to act thereafter.  Lincoln observed that he ‘broke down – nerve and pluck all gone – and has ever since evaded all possible responsibility little more since that than a first-rate clerk.’Halleck’s loss of composure came less than two months after his appointment as general-in-chief.  But Lincoln would give him time to recover to show what he could do.  Halleck, too, would get his three-to-five-month grace period.

Many contemporary corporate executives also give their new chief supervisors a grace period thqat is usually called a ‘honeymoon’ and lasts about six months, in which the new manager gets to do just about anything, within reason.  Furthermore, the top executive will generally advise his new leader to simply listen for the first three months or so and then make changes.  This allows the new leader to truly understand his new position.  Lincoln, however, did not have the time to allow his generals a six-month honeymoon.  The price to pay for inaction was simply too high, and his philosophy was to give each general only three to five months to show positive results.


When Halleck didn’t recover after that period of time, Lincoln took charge.  Three and a half months after Halleck’s promotion, Lincoln caused another major shake-up of the military.  On October 21, 1862, he appointed John A. McClernand to head up the Department of the Mississippi.  On October 23, he appointed William S. Rosecrans as head of the Department of the Cumberland.  On November 5, he relieved McClellan and appointed Gen.  Ambrose E. Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac.  And on November 9, he appointed Nathaniel P. Banks leader of the Department of the Gulf.  All of this occurred within a three-week period largely because Lincoln was frustrated with Hafleck.  Although ‘Old Brains’ would retain his impressive title, he would now be only a figurehead, much like Winfield Scott had been.  Lincoln had once again taken the bull by the horns.  All commanding generals would get their orders from him, sometimes relayed through Halleck.  Now, with this lineup, Lincoln would see if there was a real general among them.  Lincoln was obviously not afraid to shake things up in an effort to make something positive happen.  He would make mistakes, as all leaders do, but the alternative of never winning was unacceptable.


But Lincoln was to be disappointed once more.  In fact, he made a serious mistake in his appointment of John A. McClernand on the Mississippi.  McClernand had been an Illinois Democrat originally commissioned by the president for political reasons.  Even though he was aggressive, he turned out to be a very poor general who was overly ambitious.  He was also territorial, wanting all credit for himself.  In addition, he wrote long, critical letters to Lincoln complaining about his colleagues, especially Sherman and Grant.  His mounting of an aggressive smear campaign against Grant backfired when, on January 25, 1863, three months after his promotion, Lincoln made McClernand report directly to Grant, who now headed all forces along the Mississippi.

Lincoln liked Ulysses S. Grant, who had been looming on the horizon since early 1862, when he had won impressive victories in Tennessee.  He’d earned the nickname ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant after the capture of Fort Donelson on February 16, the same day that Lincoln promoted him to major general.  Casualties had been high in Graces victories in Tennessee, and there were rumors that he had been drunk during parts of the battles.  Many people were calling for Lincoln to dismiss Grant, but the president stood by him.  “I can’t spare this man,’ said Lincoln.  ‘He fights!’

Lincoln did not have much luck with generals Nathaniel Banks and William Rosecrans.  Both were mediocre leaders who tended to take action only when prodded by the president; Banks, particularly, started out on a sour note with the president.  In early November he had promised Lincoln that he would be en route to Louisiana within a week but had then turned around and asked for more supplies and men.  On November 22, the president wrote a biting reprimand to Banks:

My dear General, this expanding, and piling up on impedimenta, has been, so far, almost our ruin, and will be our final ruin if it is not abandoned. . . . You must get back to something like the plan you had then, or your expedition is a failure before you start.  You must be off before Congress meets.


Although Banks had won an impressive victory at Port Hudson, Mississippi, with the help of Grant, he turned out to be a relatively weak commanding general.  Lincoln eventually sent him off to an administrative job overseeing the reconstruction of Louisiana.

Rosecrans turned out to be just like Banks.  He remained in Nashville for the first two months after his appointment to head the armies of the Cumberland, piling up ‘impedimenta,’ as Lincoln termed it.  In January 1863, he finally engaged the enemy and repulsed a rebel attack at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, forcing them to retreat to Chattanooga.  But in his infinite caution and delay, it was another eight months before Rosecrans finally pushed the Confederates out of Chattanooga, and this only after Lincoln forced him into action.  Then, in his pursuit of the rebels, Rosecrans was soundly defeated at Chickamauga Creek on September 20, 1863.  After this the general lost all ability to lead his men and his own self-control as well.  Lincoln described him as ‘confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.’

A few weeks later, on October 16, President Lincoln gave Ulysses S. Grant command of all the armies in the West.  When he received word of his promotion, Grant immediately rode to Chattanooga, relieved Rosecrans, and fortified the city.  Lincoln was pleased with the aggressiveness displayed by his new commanding general.  Just as he had taken Vicksburg that summer, Grant, in about a month, would win impressive battles at Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  The president seemed to have found the fighting general he had been looking for.

However, Lincoln still had major problems in the East.  Ambrose E. Burnside lasted only two and a half months as a replacement for George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac.  While Burnside had the reputation of being a fighting general, Lincoln found out very quickly that he was not competent enough to command such a large army.  Burnside, who’d accepted the command hesitantly, even admitted as much.  A few weeks after the appointment, Lincoln visited Burnside and his troops at Acquia Creek, where he proposed a plan (rejected by both Burnside and Hatleck) for attacking Fredericksburg.  The president’s persistence forced Burnside into an engagement with Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, where the commander made several fatal errors in judgment that resulted in a disastrous loss for the Union.  Burnside could not accept that there were more than 12,000 casualties as a result of the battle, and he too, like Rosecrans, broke down and lost all control.  In the following weeks, the morale of the army began to suffer and when his own subordinates began to openly question his ability, Burnside went to the president to demand their dismissal.  Instead Lincoln decided to relieve Burnside and replace him with one of those complaining officers, Joe Hooker, on January 25, 1863.

Hooker could manage only five months as the fourth commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Here was another general with a nickname that implied action, but ‘Fighting Joe’ turned out to be no better than the rest.  Taking over as he did in the winter months, he had the perfect excuse for inactivity-inclement weather.  ‘The Army of the Potomac is stuck in the mud,’ wrote Lincoln’s secretary John Nicolay, ‘as it has been during nearly the whole of its existence.”


When the warm spring weather returned, Lincoln assembled a large party, including his wife and son, to visit General Hooker at Falmouth, Virginia.  He wanted to see what the Army was doing; in addition, he wanted to leave no doubts in Hookees mind that he was expected to move.  Lincoln remained in the field for five days (April 4-10, 1863) living in a tent with his family, mingling with the troops, viewing the Fredericksburg battlefield, and developing strategies with his new commanding general.  The president couldn’t help but be impressed with the Army of the Potomac, which was now more than 130,000 men strong and, thanks to McClellan, well-drilled and well-equipped.  Hooker was confident, and he told Lincoln emphatically that he would take Richmond handily.  But the president had heard that before.  ‘The most depressing thing about Hooker,’ said Lincoln, ‘is that he is overconfident.’

Lincoln returned to Washington somewhat cheered but still skeptical of the army’s ability to mount an assault.  His reservations were realized in less than a month when Hooker was thoroughly beaten by Robert E. Lee’s army at Chancellorsville, Virginia.  Hooker had taken a hasty retreat, and Lincoln wanted to know why.  On May 7, 1863, he again visited Hooker’s camp near Chancellorsville and conferred with the general and his subordinates.  Lincoln offered support and direction.  He conversed with, and then (as was his habit with Hooker) gave the general a letter that asked if he had in his ‘mind a plan wholly, or partially formed?  If you have,” said Lincoln, ‘prosecute it without interference from me.  If you have not, please inform me, so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try [to] assist in the formation of some plan for the Army.’ Hooker responded to Lincoln that he had a generalized plan to cross the Rappahannock and engage the enemy even though the Confederates had gained strength through reinforcements.  Back in Washington, however, Lincoln heard that Hookees subordinate officers were openly complaining about their general, as had happened to Burnside.  In an effort to resolve the problems, the president summoned his general to the White House to discuss the matter face to face.  In his customary letter, Lincoln stated: ‘I must tell you I have some painful intimations that some of your corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence.  This would be ruinous, if true; and you should therefore, first of all, ascertain the real facts beyond all possibility of doubt.’

When Hooker asked who it was that had been complaining about his abilities, Lincoln refused to divulge the names.  Hooker left the president and returned to his army concerned about what had happened.  However, his future actions did not change: ‘Fighting Joe” behaved a great deal like ‘Old Brains’ and ‘Young Napoleon.’

Many corporate executives are faced with the same problem Lincoln encountered.  Just as subordinate officers complained about Burnside and Hooker, employees will often gripe about their supervisors.  In dealing with this dilemma, modern leaders should take their cue from Lincoln.  If your chief executive’s subordinates complain, let the executive know about the complaints.  This is only fair.  He may not know that people are disenchanted, and it will give him time to correct the problem.  However, Lincoln would also be the first to say that if you determine that the complaints are true, and nothing changes, It’s appropriate to remove the supervisor, especially if he’s not doing his job properly.

Only two weeks after a failed attempt to visit Hooker in the field a third time, on June 28, 1863, Lincoln announced to his cabinet that he’d relieved Hooker and replaced him with George Meade (who was formally on Hooker’s staff and one of his chief antagonists).  Lincoln told the cabinet members that he had ‘observed in Hooker the same failings that were witnessed in McClellan after the Battle of Antietam,-a want of alacrity to obey, and a greedy call for more troops which could not, and ought not to be taken from other points.’ And so it went with Hooker, who had now gone the way of his predecessor, Bumside, replaced by one of his own complaining subordinates.

Lincoln and Stanton jointly chose General Meade to succeed Hooker.  They needed someone who knew the Army of the Potomac because the troops would have to move quickly.  Word had just been received that Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had invaded southern Pennsylvania.  When told by Stanton that Meade was from Pennsylvania, where the next crucial battle needed to be fought, Lincoln replied that his new commander would  ‘fight well on his own dunghill.’


General Meade immediately mobilized the Army of the Potomac and headed north, keeping himself between Lee’s army and Washington.  He caught Lee at Gettysburg as both armies were converging on the small town at the same time.  Meade bravely dug in and skillfully directed his troops for the three days of battle (July 1-3).  On July 5, after a day of inactivity, Robert E. Lee retreated to Virginia.  The battle of Gettysburg was a decisive Union victory and Meade was, for the moment, a hero.  Meanwhile, in Washington, an elated President Lincoln realized that the war could come to an end immediately if Meade would mount an offensive and crush the severely wounded army of Robert E. Lee.  But inexplicably, and much to the chagrin of Lincoln, Meade did not follow through.  The commanding general seemed to be satisfied with the victory at Gettysburg and basically only followed Lee south to the Potomac River.  In fact, he ordered his troops to ‘drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.’ When Lincoln read this in the Telegraph Office he was shocked.  ‘Drive the invader from our soil!’ He cried.  ‘My God!  Is that all?’ ‘This is a dreadfiil reminiscence of McClellan,’ Lincoln told John Hay.  ‘The same spirit that moved McClellan to claim a great victory because Pennsylvania and Maryland were safe.  The hearts of ten million people sunk within them when McClellan raised that shout last fall [at Antietam].  Will our generals never get that idea out of their heads?  The whole country is our soil.’

When Lee’s troops reached the banks of the river, they found that high water prevented their crossing.  They were trapped, and Lincoln knew now that if only Meade would attack the war would be ended.  But, again, Meade stalled and deliberated with his officers as to what course of action he should take.  In those seven days of cautious hesitation, the Potomac River receded and Lee’s army crossed to safety in Virginia.  When the president received word of Lee’s escape, he was inconsolable and angered.  He told Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that he had dreaded yet expected what had happened.  ‘And that, my God,’ said Lincoln, ‘is the last of the Army of the Potomac!  There is bad faith somewhere.  Meade has been pressed and urged, but only one of his generals was for an immediate attack, was ready to pounce on Lee; the rest held back.  What does it mean, Mr. Welles?  Great God!  What does it mean?’ Lincoln had never been so visibly upset and he vented his anger in a harsh, chiding letter of criticism to Meade.

After cooling down, Lincoln reconsidered and did not send the letter.  He realized that Meade had secured a great victory, and the president was grateful for ‘the service he did at Gettysburg.’ But Lincoln later told his son, Robert, that if he ‘had gone up there, I could have whipped them myself.’ Meade, for his part, was severely stung by the presidents dissatisfaction.  He never really did anything after the battle of Gettysburg until Ulysses Grant was named the new general-in-chief

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In a meeting with Meade several weeks later, Lincoln explained his view of the generals conduct after the battle of Gettysburg: ‘I’ll be hanged,’ said Lincoln, ‘if I could think of anything else than an old woman trying to shoo her geese across a creek.’

Contemporary leaders who experience difficulties finding the right chief subordinate can take comfort in the knowledge that at this point in the Civil War, Lincoln had spent more than two and a half years searching for an aggressive general who could do the job.  But his persistence had not waned.  In fact, after Lee’s escape at Gettysburg, his determination may have been rejuvenated.

During the inactive months of the winter of 1863-1864, Lincoln formulated plans for what was to be his last major shake-up of the American military system.  On March 10, 1864, Lincoln officially promoted Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of lieutenant general and consolidated all the armies of the United States under him.  Only a few weeks earlier, Congress had passed a bill (possibly at Lincoln’s request) reestablishing this rank and authorizing the president to appoint any one man to that position.  Prior to Grant only two men had ever held the title: George Washington and Winfield Scott.  Grant was now the new general-in-chief and for the first time since early 1861 the United States had a single commander.  Lincoln had taken one more drastic step, and this time it would work.

In the days surrounding the general’s promotion, Lincoln did something that many modem-day corporate executives do-he counseled Grant thoroughly in several private meetings.  He wanted his new chief subordinate to get off on the right foot, and to handle himself well in public.  A day before the official White House ceremony marking the new move, Lincoln told him that he ‘intended to read a few appropriate remarks and suggested that Grant do the same since he was not used to making speeches.  The president further suggested that in his commentary he say something to appease other generals who felt that they should have had the job and, in addition, to compliment the Army of the Potomac.  Shortly after the appointment was conferred, Lincoln called Grant aside in private to discuss the ongoing military situation.  He told his new commanding general that he could best illustrate the message he was trying to get across by means of a story:

At one time there was a great war among the animals, and one side had great difficulty in getting a commander who had sufficient confidence in himself Finally, they found a monkey . . . who said that he thought he could command their army if his tail could be made a little longer.  So they got more tail. . . . He looked at it admiringly, and then thought he ought to have a little more still.  This was added, and again he called for more.  The splicing process was repeated many times, until they had coiled [the monkey’s] tail around the room, filling all the space. [Then] they wrapped it around his shoulders . . . until its weight broke him down.


After hearing this story from Lincoln, Grant reassured the president that he would not call for any more troops than were absolutely necessary.


In implementing the new major military shake-up, Lincoln also made Gen.  Henry Halleck the nation’s first chief of staff.  The position suited ‘Old Brains’; all he had to do was act as liaison between Lincoln and Grant.  It was a perfect arrangement because Grant insisted on having his office in the field, which Lincoln preferred.  Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac, an arrangement that also worked well for Meade, who was better suited to taking orders than giving them.  Grant would ride back to Washington regularly to confer and discuss strategy with the president; together they worked out the offensive movements on all fronts that were to eventually end the war.  At one work session, Grant unveiled to the president his grand plan to involve all the am-lies of the Union in a centralized attack against the South, prompting Lincoln to cheerfully comment that ‘those not skinning can hold a leg.’ Lincoln found that he could effectively give Grant a free hand to run the war effort.  He didn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time overseeing this general the way he had with McClellan and the others.  Yet Lincoln never really relinquished total control and authority.  He was still the president, and even with General Grant he would persist in monitoring military operations, exerting his personal influence when he felt it necessary.

On May 3, 1864, less than two months after he had assumed full command, Grant hurled his massive army full force at Robert E. Lee in the bloody conflict known as the Wilderness Campaign.  Lincoln waited anxiously in Washington as the battle raged on but heard nothing from Grant for five days.  During the interim, when asked if he’d heard anything from the field, Lincoln is reported to have quipped: “Grant has gone into the Wilderness, crawled in, drawn up the ladder, and pulled in the hole after him, and I guess we’ll have to wait till he comes out before we know just what he’s up to.” Grant finally communicated that he had pushed through the wilderness but, in so doing, had suffered enormous casualties.  He was forcing Lee to retreat by attacking him again and again but was not winning any major victories.  ‘I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,’ vowed Grant.  This was music to Lincoln’s ears.  Never before had he had a general who was so aggressive.  ‘It is the dogged pertinacity of Grant that wins,’ the president told John Hay.  Grant, too, admired Lincoln’s tenacity After he received a telegram from the president exhorting him to ‘hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible,’ Grant laughed and remarked that ‘the President has more nerve than any of his advisors.’

Following major setbacks at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, on June 18, Grant settled in for a siege at Petersburg, Virginia.  Lee had dug in and could not be penetrated without major loss of life.  This disheartened Lincoln, and he decided to go to the field to assess the situation.  From June 20 to June 23 he was at Graces field headquarters at City Point, where he met with the troops, telling stories and anecdotes, and conferring seriously with Grant on the situation at hand.  This was the same tack he used with all the generals before Grant, further proof that he treated them all equally in the beginning.  Lincoln’s roving leadership style was ubiquitous.

At this meeting, Grant reassured the president that he would get to Lee eventually and that he had nothing to worry about.  Impressed with the general’s determination, Lincoln commented to one of Graces staff that once he ‘gets possession of a place, he holds on to it as if he had inherited it.” When the president returned to Washington, Secretary Welles noted that he was in ‘good spirits.’ The journey had ‘done him good, physically, and strengthened him mentally and inspired confidence in the general and his army.’

Within a week of his return to the capital, Lincoln was surprised to learn that in order to divert Union troops from Lee’s front, Confederate general Jubal Early had mounted an offensive through the Shenandoah Valley and, by mid-July, had made it to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. (Silver Spring, Maryland, to be exact).  On July 12, President Lincoln visited Fort Stevens and became one of the few American presidents to come directly under enemy fire.  As he stood on the parapet of the fort surveying the situation and watching troop movements, some of Early’s men opened fire and a soldier standing near Lincoln was shot.

General Grant quickly reinforced the troops around Washington and pushed the Confederates back into the Shenandoah.  Lincoln, however, was concerned that Early had gotten so far so quickly.  He called for a field meeting with Grant and on July 31 met with his commanding general at Fortress Monroe.  They not only discussed his concern about Early’s Washington raid; Lincoln also reminded Grant that it was an election year.  If Lincoln was to be reelected in November he needed military successes, and he encouraged Grant to keep that fact in mind as he proceeded with his offensive campaign. the next day, August 1, Grant (possibly directed by Lincoln) ordered Gen.  Phil Sheridan to take charge of all the forces in the Washington area, pursue Early into the Shenandoan Valley, and ‘follow the Confederates to the death.’ This was the beginning of Sheridan’s remarkably successful campaign, which ended at Winchester, Virginia, on October 19 (three weeks before the election), with all of the Shenandoah Valley under Northern control.


General Grant tended to pick men in his own mold to lead his armies in the field.  Phil Sheridan fit his style, as did William Tecumseh Sherman, whose Army of the Cumberland cut a swath into Georgia that resulted in the capture of Atlanta on September 2. This news hit Washington just three weeks after Admiral Farragut had captured Mobile Bay in Alabama and, coupled with Sheridan’s victory in Virginia, virtually assured Lincoln’s reelection.  The next six months would see an endless string of Union victories that all but destroyed the Confederacy.  The fall of such Southern strongholds as Nashville, Savannah, Wilmington, Columbia, Petersburg, and Richmond insured a final Union victory that was to come at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

One cannot help but wonder if Lincoln’s July 31 venture to Fortress Monroe to confer with Grant was not the catalyst for the entire chain of events.  One thing is certain: It was President Lincoln’s courage, stamina, fortitude, and persistence that led the way to the preservation of the nation.  He demanded action and promoted the generals who achieved results.  ‘I, who am not a specially brave man,’ he once said, ‘have had to sustain the sinking courage of these professional fighters in critical times.”

Abraham Lincoln’s entire direction of the war effort can be summed up in one short sentence of a telegram he relayed to Grant on April 7, 1865.  Sheridan, who was hammering at Lee’s army in Virginia, had wired to Grant: ‘If the thing be pressed I think Lee will surrender.’ After reading the message, Lincoln swiftly replied: ‘Let the thing be pressed!’

All leaders should realize that they can’t do everything on their own.  They simply must have people below them who will do what is necessary to insure success.  Those subordinates who will take risks, act without waiting for direction, and ask for responsibility rather than reject it, should be treated as your most prized possessions.  Such individuals are exceedingly rare and worth their weight in gold.  And when you finally find one-as Lincoln found Grant-they tend to multiply.  The ‘Grants’ of the world will choose others in their own image, just as Lincoln’s Grant chose such aggressive generals as Sheridan and Sherman rather than procrastinators like McClellan and Hooker.

Corporate executives can possess great vision and be able to provide aft the direction in the world, just as Lincoln did.  But they can’t succeed without a man like U. S. Grant to carry out the company’s mission.


  • Choose as your chief subordinates those people who crave responsibility and take risks.
  • Go out into the field with your leaders, and stand or fall with the battle.
  • If employees gripe about one of your chief supervisors, and the complaints are true, do not be afraid to remove him.
  • Give your followers all the support you can, and act on the presumption that they will do the best they can with what you give them.
  • Provide your managers a three-to-five-month grace period to see if they will take action and perform adequately.
  • If they don’t perform adequately, ease them out of power gradually, always giving them ample time to turn it around.
  • Beware of subordinates who keep piling up information without ever really accomplishing anything.
  • Coach and counsel a new executive so that he or she may get off on the right foot.  Remember, you want him to succeed.
  • Do not forget that aggressive leaders tend to choose employees in their own image.
  • Let the thing be pressed.



12 –  Encourage Innovation

“Still the question recurs “can we do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

Lincoln, in his Annual Message to Congress, exhorting its members to join him in a united venture to be conducted by the executive and legislative branches of government (December 1, 1862)


Genuine leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, are not only men of change, they are catalysts for change.  Lincoln understood early in his presidency that he’d have to virtually rebuild and reorganize the government and its armed forces.  The nation was obviously not prepared for such a formidable threat as armed insurrection.  Change was imminent.  A transformation needed to take place-immediately.


Lincoln effected the change needed by being extraordinarily decisive and by creating an atmosphere of entrepreneurship that fostered innovative techniques.  In so doing, he not only got things moving, he also gained commitment from a wide array of individuals who were excited at the prospect of seeing their ideas implemented.  He adopted a ‘more than one way to skin a cat’ attitude and would not be consumed with methodology.

Lincoln’s obsessive quest for results tended to create a climate for risk taking and innovation.  Inevitably there were failures, but Lincoln had great tolerance for failure because he knew that if his generals were not making mistakes they were not moving.  ‘Always glad to have your suggestions,’ he encouraged General Grant in 1864.  ‘I say try,” he once advised Gen.  George McClellan, ‘if we never try, we shall never succeed.’ The president viewed the failures of his generals as mistakes, learning events, or steps in the right direction.  Rarely did Lincoln assail his subordinates for a loss in battle.  Rather, he tended to stand by his commanders, offering them support and giving them encouragement.  After the first battle of Bull Run, Lincoln visited Gen.  Irvin McDowell and told him: ‘I have not lost a particle of confidence in you.’ He did the same thing with Burnside after Fredericksburg, Hooker after Chancellorsville, and Grant when he stalled at Petersburg after the Wilderness Campaign.  In each case Lincoln visited his defeated general in the field and offered his full support.  The last thing that Lincoln wanted was a brooding or depressed leader (like Halleck or Rosecrans) who had lost his nerve and could fight no more.

Lincoln essentially treated his subordinates as equals; they were colleagues in a joint effort.  He had enough confidence in himself that he was not threatened by skillful generals or able cabinet officials.  Rather than surround himself with ‘yes’ men, he associated with people who really knew their business, people from whom he could learn something, whether they were antagonistic or not.  An often overlooked component of leadership is this ability to learn from people and experiences, from successes and failures.  The best leaders never stop learning.  They possess a special capacity to be taught by those with whom they come into contact.  In essence, this ongoing accumulation of knowledge prepares the organization for change.

Abraham Lincoln was naturally inquisitive, and he possessed this inherent capacity to learn.  He also had the desire to learn new things, which led him to be unusually innovative.  It is no wonder that he changed the American presidency so profoundly in the span of only four years.  He also expected and encouraged the same creative and resourceful behavior from his subordinates.  The more contemporary thinking of Tom Peters fits right in with Lincoln’s leadership philosophy.  Peters, in Thriving on Chaos, advocates turning everyone into an innovator by ‘supporting committed champions, modeling innovation, and supporting past failures.’

One of Lincoln’s favorite stories, one he told often, was designed to encourage people to innovate, to take action on their own initiative, without waiting for orders:

It seems that there was this colonel, who when raising his regiment in Missouri, proposed to his men that he should do all the swearing for the regiment.  They assented; and for months no instance was known of violation of the promise.  The colonel had a teamster named John Todd, who, as roads were not always the best, had some difficulty in commanding his temper and tongue.  John happened to be driving a mule team through a series of mudholes a little worse than usual, when he burst forth into a volley of profanity.

The colonel took notice of the offense and brought John to account.  ‘John,’ said he, ‘didn’t you promise to let me do all the swearing for the regiment?’ ‘Yes, I did, Colonel,’ he replied, ‘but the fact was the swearing had to be done then or not at all, and you weren’t there to do it.”

Years before assuming the presidency, Lincoln had shown his interest in innovation when, on March 10, 1849 (at age forty), he received a patent for a new method of making grounded boats more buoyant. (He is the only United States president to have secured a patent.) Thereafter, he tried to stay up to date on modern scientific breakthroughs.  Many years after his patent had been issued, he revealed his great respect and passion for innovation when he stated that ‘the nation’s patent system . . . secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.’


After he became president and moved to Washington, Lincoln must have been surprised to find that his interest in new ideas would be tantalized over and over again.  Numerous businessmen and inventors visited the Executive Mansion, taking advantage of the new president’s ‘open’ office hours.  In addition, hundreds of letters poured in requesting that the government purchase a particular invention that would shorten the war.  Another man in his position might have ignored or even scoffed at such proposals, but not Lincoln.  Not only did he review every request; he set up dozens of demonstrations in and around Washington that he personally attended.  By doing so, he was acting as something of a one-man research and development department.  These demonstrations, mostly of weapons, were not only fun for Lincoln; they were an important part of his overall strategy to enhance the tools of war through the evolution of modern technology.  He was astute enough to understand the importance of gaining new and effective weapons as soon as was humanly possible.

Lincoln observed the ascension of hot-air reconnaissance balloons and the throwing of pontoon bridges across the Potomac River.  He opened the way for the ironclad ship, the Afonitor, to be built.  Once he miraculously escaped injury while witnessing the trial test of a Hyde rocket that exploded prematurely.  He also screened new types of bullets, flame throwers, gunpowder, and other ammunition.  The president even brought one inventor into a regular meeting of his cabinet to demonstrate a new breech-loading cannon.

Perhaps Lincoln’s greatest contribution in this area was his screening and support for the new breech-loading rifles that were, at the end of 1861, just becoming dependable.  On October 15, he directed the chief of ordnance, Gen.  J. W. Ripley, to order 25,000 Marsh breech loaders.  But Ripley had decreed early in the war (because he believed it would be of short duration) that he would not waste his departments time with processing any new proposed weapons, so he did not follow through on the president’s order.  However, on December 26, Lincoln ordered Ripley to purchase 10,000 Spenser repeating rifles, and this time the president had his way.  Lincoln had personally fired both rifles and was convinced that they would make an enormous difference in the war.

Lincoln made himself aware of any and all new technological advances so they could be implemented first by the Union, well before the Confederacy had time to act.  He was quick and decisive in employing these new advances and made every attempt to get new weapons into his soldier’s hands immediately, often overcoming government red tape and bureaucracy that might have delayed their use in combat.  Overall, Lincoln’s philosophy and handling of the most up-to-date technology available at the time was brilliant.  Moreover, it has amazing parallels with the 1980s movement in business and industry labeled ‘High Tech.’

A leaders ability to develop innovative ideas and ask for people’s help in implementing them may seem to be obvious keys to success.  But the sad fact is that too many of today’s leaders resign themselves to the limits imposed on them by flawed systems rather than rethinking those systems.  This seems especially true in America as opposed to Japan, where innovation is a way of life.

Rather than inhibiting progress or sapping energy, innovative thinking actually increases an organization’s chances of survival.  With today’s technology changing so rapidly, modern corporations simply must be able to respond and innovate.  This is particularly true of the computer industry, for example, where today’s greatest, most advanced invention is often tomorrow’s dinosaur.


  • When the occasion is piled high with difficulty, rise with it.  Think anew and act anew.
  • Don’t lose confidence in your people when they fail.
  • Let your subordinates know that you are always glad to have their suggestions.
  • If you never try, you’ll never succeed.
  • Except in matters of broad policy, encourage subordinates to take action on their own initiative, without waiting for orders.
  • Remember that the best leaders never stop learning.
  • Surround yourself with people who really know their business, and avoid “yes” men.
  • Be quick and decisive at employing new advances and make every attempt at getting new weapons into your soldiers’ hands immediately.






“Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated.  It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public.  However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech.”

From Lincoln’s notes for a law lecture intended to advise younger lawyers how best to succeed (July 1, 1850)



13 –  Master the Art of Public Speaking

In the decade of the 1980s Ronald Reagan was labeled the Great Communicator.  But as someone who was able to persuade through rhetoric, Reagan is virtually dwarfed by Lincoln.  It’s well known that Lincoln wrote his own speeches, many of which are today regarded as masterpieces of poetic and artistic expression.  He was an eloquent public speaker who had the capacity to raise the emotions of his audience.  Also, he was one of the best extemporaneous speakers this nation has ever known, as attested to in the transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  He penned the Emancipation Proclamation and wrote thousands of letters and notes to anyone with whom he felt he needed to communicate.  The sheer volume of his collected works (which amounts to more words than are in the Bible) is testament to his commitment to effective communication.

Even in his youth, well before he became president, Lincoln’s impressive oratorical and communicative skills were well known.  When Stephen A. Douglas heard that he would be running against Abraham Lincoln for the United States Senate in 1858, he knew that he was up against a formidable opponent.  Douglas called him ‘the strong man of his party – full. of wit, facts, dates, and the best stump-speaker with droll-ways and dry jokes in the west.  He is as honest as he is shrewd, and if I beat him my victory will be hardly won.’

In the six years before his presidency, Lincoln greatly expanded his reputation not only as a spokesman for the common man but also a powerful public speaker.  During those years (1854-1860) he dramatically increased his popularity with the citizens of his native Illinois by making more than 175 speeches, many of them extemporaneous.  Lincoln realized the value of being able to communicate in such a manner, and public speaking was part of his overall strategy to make himself more well known.  In 1850, he wrote: ‘Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated.  It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public.  However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech.” In making so many speeches, Lincoln perfected his ability to persuade and influence people, a skill that would come in handy after he became president.  To witness one of Lincoln’s speeches was apparently quite an experience.  He had a high-pitched, treble voice that tended to become even more shrill when he became excited.  At times, it was even unpleasant.  But his voice was a great asset because it could be heard at the farthest reaches of the crowds that gathered outdoors to hear him speak.  At times, he also used considerable body language when he spoke.  To emphasize a point, for example, Lincoln would ‘bend his knees, crouch, and then spring up vehemently to his toes.’

As a successful lawyer in Illinois, Lincoln was also well known for his extraordinary courtroom abilities.  He pleaded more cases in front of the State Supreme Court than any lawyer had prior to him, or has since.  His timing and intuitive sensing of the mood of a jury was unparalleled.  Lincoln was also bright and had an alert and lucid mind that made him quick on his feet.  He could recall facts and figures on a moment’s notice and was also capable of using appropriate anecdotes and humorous stories.

It’s important to note that Lincoln prepared himself thoroughly for his public speaking engagements.  Often he would write out every word of his address and then read from the text during the presentation.  He spent hours, sometimes days and weeks, researching his subject and, as one contemporary observed, ‘he never considered anything he had written to be finished until published, or if a speech, until he delivered it.’ Lincoln’s most famous speeches were exhaustively researched, analyzed, and practiced; frequently they were printed and handed out to reporters before he presented them.  This was the case for Lincoln’s renowned ‘House Divided’ speech given at the Republican state convention at Springfield in 1858.  Nicolay and Hay called it ‘the most carefully prepared speech of his whole life.  Every word of it was written, every sentence had been tested. . . .’

Lincoln’s preparation paid off because most Republicans hailed it as an eloquent presentation of the party’s platform.  The speech appeared in papers across Illinois, and Horace Greeley even printed it in the New York Tribune under the heading ‘Republican Principles.”


On February 27, 1860, in New York City, Lincoln gave what was perhaps the most important speech of his political career-the Cooper Institute address.  This was his first venture back East, where he was viewed largely as an uncouth westerner.  With just a few months remaining until the Republican National Convention would select a presidential candidate, Lincoln realized that the stakes were extraordinarily high.  After accepting the invitation to speak in October, he worked on his address on and off for more than three months, carefully researching his facts and choosing his wording.  On the night he was to speak, a crowd of about 1,500 people paid twenty-five cents each and jammed into the Cooper Institute.  AR were curious about this frontier man they had heard so much about.  As he approached the podium, one reporter felt sorry for him:

When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed.  He was tall, tall, oh, so tall, and so angular and awkward that I had for an instant a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man . . . His clothes were black and ill-fitting, badly wrinkled-as if they had been jammed carelessly into a small trunk.  His bushy head, with the stiff black hair thrown back, was balanced on a long and lean head-stalk, and when he raised his hands in an opening gesture, I noticed that they were very large.  He began in a low tone of voice-as if he were used to speaking out-doors and was afraid of speaking too loud.


He said, ‘Mr.  Cheerman,’ instead of ‘Mr.  Chairman,’ and employed many other words with an old-fashioned pronunciation.  I said to myself, ‘Old fellow, you won’t do; it is all very well for the Wild West, but this will never go down in New York.” But pretty soon he began to get into the subject; he straightened up, made regular and graceful gestures; his face lighted as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured.

I forgot the clothing, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities.  Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet with the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering the wonderful man.  In the closing parts of his argument you could hear the gentle sizzling of the gas burners.

During the speech, Lincoln largely attacked the proslavery views of Stephen A. Douglas, who had asserted that the Founding Fathers had sanctioned the institution of slavery.  Through his own exhaustive research, Lincoln proved that twenty-one of the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution of the United States had at one time or another voted to prohibit slavery in the country.  Lincoln had proved Douglas wrong, to the delight of the crowd.  Later in the address, he cautioned Republicans that ‘even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper.’ He concluded with a powerful admonition to hold fast to their beliefs:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves.  LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.


The audience cheered and applauded throughout Lincoln’s speech, and when he had concluded they gave him a standing ovation while waving hats and handkerchiefs overhead.  People also rushed to the podium to shake his hand and congratulate him.  The prairie lawyer from Illinois was a smash hit with the eastern Republicans of New York, and soon his speech would be printed in total all across the Northeast.  Lincoln’s thorough preparation had paid off, and years later he would comment how important that particular speech was and how he felt that he became president largely because of its success.

Even though he thoroughly prepared many of his addresses, it appears that Lincoln possessed a true gift when it came to communicating his feelings and emotions.  That talent can be readily observed in one of his shortest and most moving speeches, his farewell remarks to the people of Springfield who’d gathered at the railway station to see him off to Washington.  At eight o’clock on the morning of February 1 1, 1861, the president-elect arrived at the depot with his family to find that more than a thousand of his friends, neighbors, and colleagues had gathered to say good-bye.  Moved by their presence, and feeling somewhat obligated to say a few words, Lincoln made the following impromptu speech:

My friends – no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting.  To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.  Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man.  Here my children have been born, and one is buried.  I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.  Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed.  With that assistance I cannot fail.  Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.  To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.


Interestingly enough, after he became president, and especially while he was running for office, Lincoln substantially curtailed his public speaking, particularly extemporaneous remarks.  His strategy during the election of 1860 was to remain silent.  He was the more moderate, middle-of-the-road candidate, and the Democratic party was effectively split into a Northern and Southern faction.  If he did not speak, he reasoned, he would alienate few people and would probably win the election.  On June 19, 1860, he wrote to a friend: ‘In my present position . . . by the lessons of the past, and the united voice of all discreet friends, I am neither [to] write or speak a word for the public.’ Less than a month later he told a group: ‘It has been my purpose, since I have been placed in my present position, to make no speeches. . . . Kindly let me be silent.’

Lincoln’s silence paid off in a stunning victory.  Yet when he took office he did not change his philosophy about speaking in public.  Like many modern presidents, Lincoln watched what he said for fear of being misinterpreted or, worse yet, misquoted by the press.  ‘In my present position,’ he said in 1862, ‘it is hardly proper for me to make speeches.  Every word is so closely noted that it will not do to make trivial ones. . . .’ In 1864 he stated: ‘Everything I say, you know, goes into print.  If I make a mistake it doesn’t merely affect me nor you, but the country.  I therefore ought at least try not to make mistakes.’ President Lincoln’s relationship with the press corps of the day, as with most people, was good.  He treated reporters the same way he treated everyone else.  He respected them, and, when the opportunity presented itself, he would make pleasant conversation and tell some of his jokes.  The day he was elected, Lincoln smiled at the newsmen present and quipped: ‘Well boys, your troubles are over now, mine have just begun.’ As president, Lincoln was an intelligent communicator.  He was careful about what he said, and he thought before he spoke.  Every one of his major addresses while in office (including the First and Second Inaugurals, the Gettysburg Address, and his Last Public Address) was meticulously prepared and read from a completed manuscript.  In the case of each there was a specific message Lincoln wanted to convey.  He was not talking just to hear his own voice.

Lincoln’s practice of writing his speeches before they were delivered gave him the time to think about what he wanted to say and insured that his message would come across the way he intended.  He became so dependent on this style and format that, to a large extent, he relied on writing as a chief form of communication.  Often he coupled written documents with oral discussions.  This procedure was not limited just to formal speeches.  For example, Lincoln wrote the substance of his conversations with Joseph Hooker before they got together and then, at the conclusion of their meeting, he handed the general a letter to take with him for further contemplation.  Lincoln wanted no mistaking what his meaning or directives were in these instances, and there could be no misinterpretation when two senses, sight and sound, were appealed to rather than one.  Lincoln picked up this technique when he was a lawyer, as was recalled by his law partner William Hemdon:

Mr. Lincoln’s habits, methods of reading law, politics, poetry, etc., were to come into the office, pick up a book, newspaper, etc., and to sprawl himself out on the sofa, chair, etc., and read aloud much to my annoyance.  I have asked him often why he did so, and his invariable reply was: ‘I catch the idea by two senses.  But when I read aloud I hear what is read and I see it, and hence two senses get it and I remember it better, if I do not understand it better.”


In recent years, modern leadership theory has stressed the importance of effective communication.  James MacGregor Bums wrote that ‘the Leaders fundamental act is to induce people to be aware or conscious of what they feel-to feel their true needs so strongly, to define their values so meaningfully, that they can be moved to purposeful action.” Lee Iacocca put it more simply by stating: ‘The only way you can motivate people is to communicate with them.’ Effective communication also shapes values for people by ‘not only bringing company philosophy to fife . . . ‘ as Peters and Austin put it, but also ‘helps newcomers understand how shared values affect individual performance.”

But there is more to communication than just motivation and value-shaping.  ‘Leaders,’ wrote Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, ‘articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid; then they invent images, metaphors, and models that provide a focus for new attention.  By so doing they consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom.  In short, an essential factor in leadership is the capacity to influence and organize meaning for members of the organization. . . . Communication creates meaning for people.  Or should.  It’s the only way any group, small or large, can become aligned behind the overarching goals of an organization.’

The adage ‘It’s not what you say but how you say it’ also applies to Abraham Lincoln’s communication style.  He combined a well-rounded, albeit self-taught, education with wit and sincerity to serve as the nucleus of the archetypal communicator.

See also  State whether you agree or disagree with the decision made and justify your position citing current education policy and research to analyze specifics from the case

Today’s leaders would do well to embody Lincoln’s simple, straightforward approach, especially when sending complex messages that can be easily misread.  Messages are more often ‘heard’ when the communicator is honest, sincere, and succinct.  In other words, say what you mean, and mean what you say.


Lincoln built credibility by being consistent and clear when speaking to others.  But he did it with more than words; his actions mirrored what he said.  Nothing frustrates subordinates more than receiving mixed messages.  No matter what the method of communication-memos, discussions, phone calls, etc.-to lead effectively you must be clear and confident in what you have to say, and then you must follow through.


  • Be your organization’s best stump-speaker, with droll ways and dry jokes.
  • Extemporaneous speaking is your avenue to the public.
  • Use a variety of body language when you speak.
  • Prepare yourself thoroughly for your public speaking engagements.
  • Never consider anything you write to be finished until published or, if a speech, until you deliver it.
  • Remember that there will be times when you should simply not speak.  Say to your listeners: “Kindly let me be silent.”
  • Try not to make mistakes when you speak publicly.  Everything you say is intently heard.  If you make a mistake it doesn’t merely affect you but the organization as well.
  • You should often couple written documents with verbal discussions, thereby catching the idea with two senses rather than just one.  Both you and your subordinates will remember it better, even if you do not understand it better.



14 –  Influence People Through Conversation and Storytelling

“They say I tell a great many stories.  I reckon I do; but I have learned from long experience that plain people, take them as they run, are more easily influenced through the medium of a broad and humorous illustration than in any other way. . . .”

Lincoln explaining to a friend why he often related stories in the course of normal conversation


Though Abraham Lincoln was an outstanding writer and public speaker, he was even more adept at the art of conversation.  He could talk to anyone, brilliant scientist, wily politician, visiting head of state, or simple backwoods farmer.  He had a terrific sense of humor and often sprinkled his conversations with witty stories and humorous anecdotes that he used as persuasive tools.  He has come to be regarded as the only president of the United States who was a true humorist in the tradition of Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

Conversation was Lincoln’s chief form of persuasion and the single most important and effective aspect of his leadership style.  One on one, Lincoln could convince anybody of just about anything.  He enjoyed talking to people, which was one reason he created such open access to the White House.  Everyone and anyone was invited to come in and talk to him.  But even the brightest leading citizens of the era were dominated by Lincoln during a personal exchange.  Many who called on him at the White House to obtain some favor found themselves in the hall wondering how Lincoln got rid of them.  Thurlow Weed, a prominent journalist and political organizer, once sat down after a meeting with him and wrote a letter to Lincoln that stated, in part: ‘I do not, when with you, say half I intend, partly because I do not like to ‘crank,’ and partly because you talk me out of my convictions and apprehensions.  So bear with me, please, now, till I free my mind.’ In turn, Lincoln, amusingly, once wrote to Weed: ‘I am sure if we could meet we would not part with any unpleasant impression on either side.’ Carl Schurz, a Republican contemporary of Lincoln, and later a Union general, recounted his first meeting with the future president:


All at once, after the train had left a way-station, I observed a great commotion among my fellow passengers, many of whom jumped from their seats and pressed eagerly around a tall man who had just entered the car.  They addressed him in the most familiar style: ‘Hello, Abe!  How are you?’ and so on.  And he responded in the same manner: ‘Good-evening, Ben!  How are you, Joe?  Glad to see you, Dick!’ and there was much laughter at some things he said, which, in the confusion of voices, I could not understand.  ‘Why,’ exclaimed my companion, the committee-man, ‘there’s Lincoln, himself!’ He pressed through the crowd and introduced me to Abraham Lincoln, whom I then saw for the first time. . . . He received me with an offhand cordiality, like an old acquaintance . . . and we sat down together.  In a somewhat high-pitched but pleasant voice . . . [he] talked in so simple and familiar a strain, and his manner and homely phrase were so absolutely free from any semblance of self-consciousness or pretension of superiority, that I soon felt as if I had known him all my life, and we had very long been close friends.  He interspersed our conversations with all sorts of quaint stories, each of which had a witty point applicable to the subject in hand, and not seldom concluded an argument in such a manner that nothing more was to be said.


Carl Schurz was not the only person who heard Abraham Lincoln tell a story.  As a matter of fact, nearly everyone who came in contact with our sixteenth president heard him relate some kind of yam.  Lincoln, it turned out, had an overwhelming inventory of anecdotes, jokes, and stories; furthermore, he possessed the ability to instantly pull out just the right one for any situation that might arise.  Lincoln was a master at the art of storytelling, and he used that ability purposefully and effectively when he was president of the United States.

Storytelling came naturally to Lincoln.  He inherited the ability partly from his father, Thomas Lincoln, who was a popular yam-spinner of his day.  After a long day’s work as a lawyer riding the circuit in Illinois, Abraham would pass the time with his colleagues at the local tavern, where each would take turns telling a favorite anecdote.  Often they would hold storytelling contests in front of standing-room-only crowds eager to be amused and entertained.  Over the years, Lincoln not only built up a good supply of tales but also perfected his skill at relating them.

Lincoln’s humor was a major component of his ability to persuade people.  He knew the effect it had and used it to the utmost.  It also aided him politically by becoming an obsession with the public.  People became fascinated with his quick wit and hilarious stories; as a result, many of his humorous anecdotes found their way into print while he was still alive.  Literally hundreds of stories were attributed to Lincoln that the president himself had never even heard.

During his years in the White House, Lincoln’s storytelling became so legendary that amusing tales started to circulate about bon.  One that he was fond of telling on himself was about two Quaker women in a railway coach who were overheard in a conversation:

‘I think Jefferson will succeed,’ said the first.  ‘Why does thee think so?’ asked the second.  ‘Because Jefferson is a praying man.”

‘And so is Abraham a praying man.’

‘Yes, but the Lord will think Abraham is joking.’


President Lincoln also turned to humor to help alleviate the strain of his office, not to mention the impact that the loss of fife during the Civil War had on him.  Laughter gave him a momentary break from his troubles.  ‘I tell you the truth,” he once related to a friend, ‘when I say that a funny story, if it has the element of genuine wit, has the same effect on me that I suppose a good square drink of whiskey has on an old toper; it puts new life into me.  The fact is I have always believed that a good laugh was good for both the mental and the physical digestion.’ Another time he said simply: ‘I laugh because I must not weep-thaes all, thaes all.’

After Lincoln became president, he mostly used his skill in telling stories for a purpose rather than for amusement.  As one of his former apprentices related it, he communicated stories now largely ‘for business, to give a hint or enforce an argument.’ Here again is a skill possessed by Lincoln that was used to his utmost advantage as a leader.  He realized the persuasive effects that stories had on people and once said as much during a conversation: They say I tell a great many stories.  I reckon I do; but I have learned from long experience that plain people, take them as they run, are more easily influenced through the medium of a vivid and humorous illustration than in any other way……..

Recent work in the field of leadership confirms Lincoln’s strategy and emphasizes the role of stories as powerful motivational tools that spread loyalty, commitment, and enthusiasm.  ‘All leadership is show business,’ wrote Peters and Austin.  ‘It turns out that human beings reason largely by means of stories, not by mounds of data.  Stories are memorable. . . . They teach. . . . If we are serious about ideals, values, motivation, commitment, we will pay attention to the role of stories [and] myths. – . .’

It’s clear that Lincoln thought quite a lot about his craft of storytelling.  So much so that he actually seemed to have a strategy in employing stories effectively.  As the president once said:


I believe I have the popular reputation of being a story-teller, but I do not deserve the name in its general sense, for it is not the story itself, but its purpose, or effect, that interests me.  I often avoid a long and useless discussion by others or a laborious explanation on my own part by a short story that illustrates my point of view.  So, too, the sharpness of a refusal or the edge of a rebuke may be blunted by an appropriate story, so as to save wounded feeling and yet serve the purpose.  No, I am not simply a story-teller, but story-telling as an emollient saves me much friction and distress.


Even in the most serious moments with his cabinet members, Lincoln would take the time to tell an anecdote to illustrate to his subordinates exactly how he felt.  Often, if they were discussing policy or a certain direction the country, should take, the presidents story would end the conversation.  Other times he merely related the tale for amusement.  One case in point occurred when Lincoln first showed his cabinet the original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.  After he had finished reading, Secretary Chase was bold enough to break the silence with a few suggested changes, and eventually all the members had their shot at his document.  Lincoln said:

Gentlemen, this reminds me of the story of the man who had been away from home, and when he was coming back was met by one of his farm hands, who greeted him after this fashion: ‘Master, the little pigs are dead, and the old sow’s dead, too, but I didn’t like to tell you all at once.’


As a communicator, Abraham Lincoln liberally utilized stones and anecdotes, colloquial expressions, and symbols and imagery in order to influence and persuade his audience.  His “down home figures of speech attracted people, kept their attention, and, in many cases, endeared people to him.  Stories were an important part of his image as a common man, and he used them so frequently that they must have been genuine.  Lincoln could compare Horace Greeley to ‘an old shoe – good for nothing . . . and so rotten that nothing can be done with him,  or Salmon P. Chase to a ‘bluebottle fly, laying his eggs in every rotten spot he can find,’ and then turn around and tell others that “I don’t amount to pig tracks in the War Department.”

Yet Lincoln could also apply perfect rhyme, cadence, and alliteration to his speeches and writings.  He could conceive and employ such beautiful symbolism as “the fiery trail through which we pass,’ ‘the mystic chords of memory,” and “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  One of the great paradoxes about Abraham Lincoln is that he could tell an off-color joke to a group of farm hands and have them in hysterical laughter, and he could create and deliver the Gettysburg Address, one of the most magnificent works of American literature.

Every leader must realize that the power to motivate followers resides almost solely in the ability to communicate effectively.  In most business organizations, private conversation is much more important than public speaking.  It provides direct contact with the individuals who are actually performing the work.  Chatting informally with one or two employees will allow the leader to pick up more subtle nuances of how people actually feel and think.  And loyalty is more often won through such personal contact than in any other way.

A contemporary leader who is introverted or shy (as Lincoln was in his youth) must make every effort to overcome this trait.  A person with a great deal of talent must be capable of expressing it. He has to be able to think on his feet.  And, if he cares about his employees, he cant be reticent in telling them so.  He must remember that his followers want, and sometimes crave, the opportunity to simply talk to their leader. That’s one reason why Franklin Roosevelt ‘fireside chats” were so successful.  The mere mention of the word “chat” from Roosevelt was inviting.  Millions of people listened to their radio when he spoke to them and many of them probably wished he could hear them talk back.


  • When you meet with an individual, try not to part with any unpleasant impression on either side.
  • Speak in simple and familiar strains with people, without any pretension of superiority.  Leave people with the feeling that they’ve known you all their lives.
  • Don’t forget that humor is a major component of your ability to persuade people.
  • A good laugh is good for both the mental and physical digestion.
  • Remember that people are more easily influenced through the medium of a broad and humorous illustration than in any other way.
  • You will often avoid a long and useless discussion by others or a laborious explanation on your own part by a short story that illustrates your point of view.
  • The sharpness of a refusal or the edge of a rebuke may be blunted by an appropriate story, so as to save wounded feelings and yet serve the purpose.


  • Loyalty is more often won through private conversation than in any other way.



15 –  Preach a Vision and Continually Reaffirm It

“All honor to Jefferson – who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce . . . an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.”

Part of Lincoln’s praise for Thomas Jefferson, one of his early heroes, to a Boston group that requested he speak there on Jefferson’s birthday (April 6, 1859)


The first dictionary definition of a ‘leader’ describes a primary shoot of a plant, the main artery through which the organism lives and thrives.  In much the same way, organizations prosper or die as a result of their leaders ability to embody and communicate the company’s vision.  How a manager or professional influences others very much dictates the health of the department, region, and ultimately the entire organization.

All this translates into one of the major factors that distinguishes leaders from mere managers: vision.  Peters and Austin advocated ‘preaching the vision: ‘Attention, symbols, drama,’ they wrote, are ‘the nuts and bolts of leadership. . . . You have to know where you’re going.  To be able to state it dearly and concisely.  And you have to care about it passionately.  That all adds up to vision.  The concise statement or picture of where the company and its people are heading and why they should be proud of it.’

Effective visions, according to Tom Peters, are inspiring.  They are ‘clear and challenging-and about excellence.’ They make sense and can stand the test of time; they are stable, yet flexible.  An effective vision empowers people and prepares for the future while also having roots in the past.

It’s well known and documented that during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln, through his speeches, writings, and conversations, ‘preached a vision” of America that has never been equaled in the course of American history.  Lincoln provided exactly what the country needed at that precise moment in time: a clear, concise statement of the direction of the nation and justification for the Union’s drastic action in forcing civil war.  In short, Lincoln provided grass-roots leadership.  Everywhere he went, at every conceivable opportunity, he reaffirmed, reasserted, and reminded everyone of the basic principles upon which the nation was founded.  His vision was simple, and he preached it often.  It was patriotic, reverent, filled with integrity, values, and high ideals.  And most importantly, it struck a chord with the American people.  It was the strongest part of his bond with the common people.

The one most important sentiment, he felt, was ‘that sentiment . . . giving liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for a future time.  It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” In his July 4, 1861, message to Congress in special session, Lincoln reaffirmed his most deeply held beliefs, all of which had sprung from sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence:

This is essentially a people’s contest.  On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men -to lift artificial weights from all shoulders-to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all-to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.’


While It’s true that Lincoln strategically and purposefully asserted his vision, It’s also important to realize that doing so fit naturally into his overall leadership philosophy.  Effective visions and organizational mission statements can’t be forced upon the masses.  Rather, they must be set in motion by means of persuasion.  The people must accept and implement them wholeheartedly and without reservation.  When this is achieved, it is always done with enthusiasm, commitment, and pride.  Moreover, truly accepted visions tend to foster innovation, risk-taking, empowerment, and delegation.  If the working troops understand what is expected of them, what the organization is trying to accomplish, then it becomes possible to make important decisions on lower levels, thereby creating a climate in which results and progress continually occur.


Lincoln harnessed his vision through the implementation of his own exceptional roving leadership style.  He saw to it personally that the word got out.  This in itself was a major accomplishment in an age when the mass communication mediums of radio and television did not yet exist.  In the election year 1864, for example, the president ventured into the field to visit his battle-weary soldiers in an attempt to re-inspire them; to let them know that neither he nor the nation had forgotten them; and to remind them of the importance of what they were fighting for.  He told the 166th Ohio Regiment:

It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives.  I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours.  I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House.  I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has.  It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise, and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations.  It is for this the struggle should be maintained. . . . The nation is worth fighting for. . . .

Lincoln preached his vision throughout the four years of his administration.  His message was simple and clear, emphasizing equality and freedom (including for slaves), a ‘fair chance for all,’ and elevation of the ‘condition of men.’ This was the people’s birthright, he maintained, and it should be protected and preserved for future generations.

Such inspirational words from the nation’s chief executive could not help but move people, especially the common man who was the foot soldier during the Civil War.  They revered Lincoln, trusted him, cheered him loudly wherever he went.  The typical Union soldier enjoyed a bond with the president that few people in American history would ever have with a sitting United States president.  That bond began in Washington in early 1861, when Lincoln got out of the ‘ivory tower’ of the White House and personally visited many of the arriving troops destined for the front.

Part of this connection can also be attributed to Lincoln’s “common man’ image.  He, too, had humble beginnings.  He was raised in poverty and, in a way, he symbolized for many people the realization of the American dream.  Lincoln had pulled himself up the ladder to reach the pinnacle of success.  It’s obvious from. his speeches that Lincoln recognized this binding link he enjoyed with the common people and played on it when necessary.  In fact, he made a point of tailoring his speeches so that they were easily understood.  Lincoln once counseled his law partner, William Herndon, on this very matter:

Billy, don’t shoot too high – aim lower and the common people will understand you.  They are the ones you want to reach – at least they are the ones you ought to reach.  The educated and refined people will understand you any way.  If you aim too high your ideas will go over the heads of the masses and only hit those who need no hitting.


Through the course of the four years of the Civil War, Lincoln kept repeating and renewing his vision so that it would not diminish in meaning.  It was this process of renewal that was, in effect, Lincoln’s greatest form of motivation.  Over time, as values decay and incentives dwindle, leaders must constantly provide a rejuvenating process.  In Lincoln’s case, the fight against slavery was already an age-old issue, and the Civil War was a culmination of decades of conflict.  It was time to renew and regenerate old values.  Lincoln strategically applied himself to this task.  He resurrected the Declaration of Independence, dusted off the Constitution, and brought back a sense of pride and patriotism that had not been seen since the days of the American Revolution.  Lincoln revitalized the old values of Americanism and reminded all citizens why the United States was formed in the first place, just as all leaders should remind subordinates why their organization was formed in the first place.

When effecting renewal, Lincoln called on the past, related it to the present, and then used them both to provide a fink to the future.  A perfect example of Lincoln’s interweaving the concepts of vision and renewal is illustrated in his immortal Gettysburg Address.  Long regarded as one of the great works of American literature and critically acclaimed for its simplicity and directness, the speech was delivered at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery only four months after one of the most important Union victories of the Civil War.  While Lincoln technically spent only a few weeks preparing the address, it’s clear from his past oratory and writings that all of the concepts, and many of the phrases employed, had been part of his vision for the nation for years.  This time, however, Lincoln was unusually eloquent, perhaps because of the significance of the battle itself or perhaps because of the reverence of the occasion.


Whatever the reason, Lincoln was unusually committed to attending the ceremony and making his speech.  He left Washington amid the anguished protests of his wife, Mary, because their youngest son was ill and confined to bed.  She felt his place was at their boy’s side.  And for Lincoln, who had already watched two sons die from disease, this was not an unimportant matter.  But the president decided to make the trip anyway, hoping that the sturdy ten-year-old Tad would recover.  There would be no holding back Lincoln, who was committed to delivering his important message to the American public, and this would be a perfect opportunity to do so.

On November 19, 1863, after having had his mind greatly eased by receipt of a telegram relating that his son was much improved, and after listening to the principal orator of the day, Edward Everett, speak for nearly two hours, Abraham Lincoln spent only two minutes reminding the nation what the Civil War, and America itself, was all about:


[The Past]

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


[The Present]

Now we are engaged in a great civil war; testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battle-field of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.



But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.


[The Future]

and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Renewal of America’s vision by Lincoln provided a kind of physical reinforcement, more powerful than sending troops to the field, or guns and supplies to the soldiers.  It tended to put everyone on a dynamic and forceful upward spiral of action and commitment.  It was far more powerful than throwing money and people at the problem.  By clearly renewing his vision and then gaining acceptance and commitment, Lincoln essentially reseed up, and then released, what amounted to a battalion of energy within each person.  Without question, Lincoln realized what every leader must – that the process of renewal releases the critical human talent and energy that is necessary to insure success.


  • Provide a clear, concise statement of the direction of your organization, and justify the actions you take.
  • Everywhere you go, at every conceivable opportunity, reaffirm, reassert, and remind everyone of the basic principles upon which your organization was founded.
  • Effective visions can’t be forced on the masses.  Rather, you must set them in motion by means of persuasion.
  • Harness your vision through implementation of your own personal roving leadership style.
  • When you preach your vision, don’t shoot too high.  Aim lower and the common people will understand you.  They are the ones you want to reach-at least they are the ones you ought to reach.
  • When effecting renewal, call on the past, relate it to the present, and then use them both to provide a link to the future.
  • You must realize that the process of renewal releases the critical human talent and energy necessary to insure success.




Although the true genius of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership ability has often been overlooked, during his lifetime there were a few key people, mostly in his inner circle, who did grasp and appreciate the depth of his skiffs.  Secretary of State William H. Seward acknowledged his ‘executive force and vigor,’ while War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton realized that he would ‘belong to the ages.’ Even newspaperman Horace Greeley, often at odds with the president and his administration, came to value Lincoln’s excellence:

He was not a born king of men . . . but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance.  He slowly won his way to eminence and fame by doing the work that lay next to him – doing it with all his growing might – doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure, when failure was encountered, how to do it better. . . . He was open to all impressions and influences, and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances, no matter how adverse or unwelcome.  There was probably no year of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler, and better man than he had been the year preceding.

Greeley and some of Lincoln’s other contemporaries clearly understood his real ability.  Unfortunately, after Lincoln’s assassination came martyrdom and creation of the ‘Lincoln Myth.’ As a result, Lincoln’s true leadership talent – his style, substance, and philosophy has been lost, obscured, even overlooked through the years.

Lincoln was extraordinarily self-confident and possessed great persuasive and political skills that were developed over his lifetime.  When civil war broke out, as president of the United States he took charge and enhanced the governments executive function and responsibility.  He did not intend to significantly change the office of the presidency, which, of course, is exactly what he did.  Rather, the transformation came about as a consequence of his leadership during the war, his aggressiveness in taking ‘the bull by the horns’ and in utilizing any means necessary to preserve the nation, such as exploiting the emergency powers granted him under the Constitution of the United States.  As Greeley said, Lincoln learned and profited from experience while on the job.  He cultivated passion and trust in all of his followers – delegating rather than trying to do it all himself, coaching rather than dictating.  Yet, at the same time, he immersed himself in the details of the war effort.  He learned how to become a commander-in-chief.  He mastered military tactics and strategy.  As a Washington outsider, he quickly grasped an understanding of the general organization of the United States Government and how to work within it.  In short, Lincoln, by his own design, actually grew into the job of the presidency.

In order to comprehend modern leadership theory and be successful in the future, leaders must look to the past-to President Abraham Lincoln, for example-who routinely practiced nearly all of the ‘revolutionary thinking’ techniques that have been preached to American industry in the last ten to fifteen years.  Lincoln can be looked to as the ideal model for desirable, effective leadership.  He is a perfect example of what James MacGregor Bums termed a ‘transforming leader-a person who aims for the evolution of a new level of awareness and understanding among all members of an organization.  Such a leader rejects the use of naked power and instead attempts to motivate and mobilize followers by persuading them to take ownership of their roles in a more grand mission that is shared by all members of the organization.

Lincoln’s grand mission, his ‘common purpose,’ was essentially the American experiment and the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  He aimed at the ‘elevation of men,’ opposed anything that tended to degrade them, and especially lashed out at the institution of slavery.  And it was slavery that was at the heart of the South’s attempted separation from the Union.  He played upon the degradation of slavery and its lack of human dignity.  By vehemently opposing it, and appealing to the ‘better angels of our nature,’ Lincoln was able to mobilize his followers in a common mission.  He also knew the dire consequences of allowing the South to secede from the United States.  In May 1861, he remarked to John Hay: ‘We must settle this question now, whether in a free government, the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose.  If we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.’

It was Abraham Lincoln who, during the most difficult period in the nation’s history, almost single-handedly preserved the American concept of government.  Had he not been the leader that he was, secession in 1860 could have led to further partitioning of the country into an infinite number of smaller, separate pieces, some retaining slavery, some not.  He accomplished this task with a naturalness and intuitiveness in leading people that was at least a century ahead of his time.


Lincoln knew that true leadership is often realized by exerting quiet and subtle influence on a day-to-day basis, by frequently seeing followers and other people face to face.  He treated everyone with the same courtesy and respect, whether they were kings or commoners.  He lifted people out of their everyday selves and into a higher level of performance, achievement, and awareness.  He obtained extraordinary results from ordinary people by instilling purpose in their endeavors.  He was open, civil, tolerant, and fair, and he maintained a respect for the dignity of all people at all times.  Lincoln’s attitude and behavior as president of the United States essentially characterized the process that symbolizes acceptable and decent relations among human beings.  Abraham Lincoln was the essence of leadership. is an academic writing platform that provides students and professionals with quality services to ease their assignment challenges. With a wide range of services, the platform has become one of the leading academic writing service providers in the market due to its reliability and affordability. Below, we shall discuss some of the services which provides:

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