Leadership Lessons From Abraham Lincoln

Did Abraham Lincoln really say, "Get out of the office and circulate among the troops," back in 1861?

He did.  But, not in those exact words.  What he said, according to author Donald T. Phillips, is this:

  • "His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with."
Lincoln made this statement when describing his reason for relieving Gen. John C. Fremont from his command in Missouri (September 9, 1861).

Phillips writes that for Lincoln, casual contact with his subordinates was as important as formal gatherings, if not more so.

Phillips, includes many more leadership lessons from Lincoln in his fascinating book, Lincoln on Leadership, where Phillips presents 15 of Lincoln's leadership statements in today's vernacular.

Another leadership lesson from Lincoln is to:
  • Influence people through conversation and storytelling
Phillips explains that Lincoln had a strategy that emphasized the role of stories as powerful motivational tools that spread loyalty, commitment, and enthusiasm.  Stories are important because they are memorable.  They teach.  Employees learn largely by stories and not mounds of data.

Other lessons from the book include:
  • Wage only one war at a time
  • Encourage risk-taking while providing job security
  • Avoid issuing orders--instead request, imply, or make suggestions


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