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President’s Day: Abraham Lincoln’s Leadership Lessons (February 20)

President’s Day is February 20th – it’s a time when we celebrate the leaders of our nation for all they have contributed and accomplished and led. When historians look for examples of leadership, they often cite President Abraham Lincoln. What makes Lincoln a great leader? Noted historian Kearns Goodwin has identified 10 qualities that she believes are what helped make him an exceptional leader. She also believes these are the same qualities that should be present in our leaders today.

  1. Can listen to different points of view.

It is no secret the President Lincoln did not agree with every viewpoint of his cabinet. He was able to listen to everyone and even encouraged members of his administration to feel free to speak their minds.

  1. Able to learn on the job.

President Lincoln had the ability to learn from his mistakes, and he helped to establish this culture in his cabinet.

  1. Shares credit for successes.

Lincoln was quoted saying that the “path to success and ambition is broad enough for two”. He always shared the credit with everyone that was involved in the success.

  1. Ability to share blame when there is a failure.

Lincoln stood up for his cabinet when mistakes were made or a failure occurred. He was willing to share equally in the blame alongside the rest of his administration.

  1. Recognize own weaknesses.

Lincoln was well aware of the fact that he often gave people too many chances. A good example is his continued support of Gen. McClean. Since he did recognize that this was a weakness of his, he was able to take the necessary steps to overcome it.

  1. Can control emotions.

Like everyone else President Lincoln occasionally became angry or frustrated. While he had steps in place to help him channel these emotions there were times when he did lose his temper. When this happened he always took the time to reassure the person that he did not hold a grudge.

  1. Able to relax.

Even with all of the stress that came with his position, President Lincoln still understood how important it was to take time to relax. He enjoyed and encouraged laughter both at home and in the Oval Office. He also knew how important it was to spend time with family and friends, and used this as a chance to relax and relieve some stress.

  1. Go out and manage in the field.

Lincoln often visited soldiers in the camps and hospitals. He also spent time with the public and made time to speak with his constituents. Managing directly helped the president to build lasting connections with his troops and the public.

  1. Ability to stick to fundamental goals.

During the summer of 1864 when it looked like the North was going to lose the war, President Lincoln never considered giving up on his fundamental beliefs. He held firm to his belief that slavery needed to be abolished, and never considered giving up the war if it meant going against his core beliefs.

  1. Can clearly communicate goals.

Lincoln had an astounding ability to be able to clearly communicate his goals and visions with everyone from the public to his cabinet. He kept his concepts simple and used wording in his speeches that would be clearly understood by everyone.

What made President Lincoln such a great leader was his integrity and strong moral code.


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