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Abraham Lincoln, Rival Slayer - Affirm Your Way to Success

Updated on August 26, 2012

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~ John Quincy Adams

The title of this article could have been one of my goals--I will find less fault and find more to praise in everyone I meet. It is said, the best way to destroy an enemy is to make them your friend and the best way to be a friend to someone is to appreciate and value them. As Goethe said, affirming their good traits rather than pointing out their bad ones helps release them to become the person you praise.

In an earlier article--I Decided to be Myself Since Everyone Else is Taken--I talked about the value of thinking and talking positively about yourself. In this article I want to concentrate on the incredible power that is released when you build up others and allow both them and you to succeed.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves! ~ Lao-Tsu

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. ~ Mark Twain

If we got our philosophy of life from political candidates, divorce hearings or kids who knocked over a lamp, it would be that success is measured by how much you can shift blame to someone else. It’s like the game of aggravation. You win by knocking other people back and not being knocked out yourself. But does it really work in human endeavors? An individual who is so small that their best strategy for getting ahead is to put down others will never be truly great..

Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.~ Abraham Lincoln

Throughout history, exceptional people have discovered alternatives--ways to become leaders and successes by building up others.

Abraham Lincoln is a perfect example of someone who tried to get elected by putting down his opponents. He finally saw the futility of this method and when he learned, instead, to value his rivals, he was able to achieve the success that had eluded him for so long. In fact, it was his willingness to find more value than fault in his critics that propelled him toward statesman status and helped him to become possibly the greatest leader we have ever had. What was it that made him so successful with his detractors as well as those he represented?

I have laid out some principles that I think is the key to real success in bold and I will give you some examples from Lincoln and other highly respected achievers that illustrate how to apply them.

1. In the game of success, compete all you want, but instead of knocking someone else out of the game, earn their respect.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson is one of the most successful and respected basketball players in NBA history. He competed with the Celtics' Larry Bird, both earning three MVP titles and yet Larry had this to say about his biggest opponent: Magic is head-and-shoulders above everybody else, I've never seen [anybody] as good as him.

From the beginning he was a team player and was enthusiastic in his appreciation. In his first game with the Lakers, he smiled and jumped up and down and hugged everyone to the point that Kareem had to tell him to chill, because there were 81 more games to go.

2. Use the gifts of others to augment your own and at the same time help them succeed.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Earvin got the nickname "Magic" because of the uncanny way he passed to his teammates. Even though he had to retire early, he is fourth in the all time total number of assists and his 11.2 average assists per game is the best ever.

Think about it. Most players would be happy to achieve an average of 11.2 points per game and here Magic is helping 11.2 players per game to make their own score.

Magic found the best man for the job and without fanfare, passed him the ball and let him make the score. Here's what one coach said of him:

The best basketball player of all time is Magic Johnson. This is a team sport, and he was the ultimate team player. He’s the guy they invented the triple-double for. He made everybody else on the court better. ~ Greg Knauss

Abraham Lincoln, Rival Slayer
Abraham Lincoln, Rival Slayer

Abraham Lincoln's rivals for the Republican nomination were strong, forceful and influential men. All were surprised that they did not receive the nod and were dumbfounded when Lincoln not only won the nomination, but the presidency as well. Despite their animosity towards him, Lincoln chose each of them for his cabinet. When asked why he did so, he replied: We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their service.

Two cabinet secretaries, Simon Cameron in January 1861 and Salmon Chase in June 1864 were eased out of office, but the president was on good terms with them and appointed both to important government offices. His cabinet members were public in their criticism of Lincoln and worked often for their own ambitious ends. If you went by the publications of the day you might think that Lincoln was at the mercy of his rebellious prima donna's, but those closest to him saw a different story.

The relations between Mr. Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet were always friendly and sincere on his part. He treated every one of them with unvarying candor, respect, and kindness; but though several of them were men of extraordinary force and self-assertion—this was true especially of Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Stanton—and though there was nothing of selfhood or domination in his manner toward them, it was always plain that he was the master and they the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will in questions where responsibility fell upon him. If he ever yielded to theirs, it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate. I fancied during the whole time of my intimate intercourse with him and with them that he was always prepared to receive the resignation of any one of them. At the same time I do not recollect a single occasion when any member of the Cabinet had got his mind ready to quit his post from any feeling of dissatisfaction with the policy or conduct of the President. Not that they were always satisfied with his actions; the members of the Cabinet, like human beings in general, were not pleased with everything. In their judgment much was imperfect in the administration; much, they felt, would have been done better if their views had been adopted and they individually had had charge of it. Not so with the President. He was calm, equable, uncomplaining. In the discussion of important questions, whatever he said showed the profoundest thought, even when he was joking. He seemed to see every side of every question. He never was impatient, he never was in a hurry, and he never tried to hurry anybody else. To every one he was pleasant and cordial. Yet they all felt it was his word that went at last; that every case was open until he gave his decision. ~ Secretary of War Charles A. Dana

All of these men, knowing they were better educated, more experienced and more qualified than Lincoln, were deeply upset when he was elected and yet, one by one, they joined forces with him and gradually were won over by his leadership skills and his ability to recognize their talents and overlook their minor indiscretions and staunch critiscism.

Frieda Caplan
Frieda Caplan
Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad at Tender Greens
Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad at Tender Greens | Source

3. Get ahead by acknowledging the potential and value of those around you.

Someone said there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. I’ll say it a little differently—There is no limit to how far you can go if you give credit to the ones who help you along the way. Make sure you give other people who are in your circle of influence as much credit and value as you can. Why not? The more you value others the more you will be valued. Those who devalue and criticize others around them wind up being hated and slammed by those they walked on on their way to the top.

Frieda Caplan of Frieda's Specialty Produce, is credited by many for introducing specialty vegetables like Kiwi and Asian Pears into the marketplace. One of her most identifiable and best loved features is the label which not only identifies the vegetable but tells how to prepare it. She is quick to acknowledge the farmer who gave her the idea and downplays her own part in it.

Before he opened the first Tender Greens, co-founder Erik Oberholtzer wrote a contract to partner with Scarborough Farms in Oxnard, California. “I had a relationship with them from the past and knew they were small enough to assure quality but big enough to provide a consistent supply,” he says. To support the partnership, Oberholtzer gave the farm equity in Tender Greens, which is on course to grow to 30 stores in the next 10 years. “We are now Scarborough’s largest customer,” he adds. “We get preference on ingredients and if there is a shortage, we get the produce first.”

“We had never partnered with a restaurant before, but I knew the owners from when they worked at One Pico and we’d built a relationship.” Scarborough President Anne Stein said she’s doubled her planting area in the last decade, to 150 acres to keep up with the restaurant’s demand.

Those who recognize the value of others and invest in them either by equity as in the case of Tender Greens or by publicly crediting them like Frieda's Specialty Produce find themselves succeeding faster and more solidly than they ever could have on their own.

No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude. ~ Alfred North Whitehead

4. Learn to masterfully handle criticism with humor and affirmation.

No man resolved to make the most of himself has time to waste on personal contention. ~ Abraham Lincoln

In Lincoln's early career he was fond of ridicule, but after reducing an opponent to tears and almost getting killed by another one in a duel, he learned he could get far more mileage out of directing it at himself. During one of their debates, Stephen Douglas called Lincoln two-faced to which Lincoln replied: I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, why would I be wearing this one?

After losing faith in his Secretary of War, Lincoln chose Edwin Stanton to succeed him even though Stanton had snubbed him in law practice and openly criticized him in the presidency. Lincoln wanted to win the war and he needed Stanton's great drive and ability far more than he needed to be flattered. It was not easy working with him, however, and once a congressman rushed in to inform Lincoln that Stanton repudiated an order from Lincoln and called the President a fool. He called me a damn fool? Lincoln asked. Yes! Not once, sir, but twice! replied the excited congressman. Well, Stanton speaks what is on his mind, and he is usually right about what he speaks, so if he called me a damn fool, I must be a damn fool. I will go to him now and find out why.

When Lincoln did lose his temper, he would quickly follow up with an apology. To one of his generals: I was a little cross, I ask pardon. If I do get up a little temper I have no sufficient time to keep it up. Lincoln reacted poorly sometimes, but he invariably went out of his way to repair it and make it right.

To his credit, when Lincoln was consumed with frustration or rage with one of his generals or cabinet members, he would angrily write the letter but would wait before going further. These boiling point letters were discovered, after his death, in a drawer in the president's desk with the words written on them: "Unsent and unsigned."

It is with pleasure I receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I am guilty of one; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of having committed it.~ George Washington

You must be willing to suffer the anger of the opponent, and yet not return anger. You must not become bitter. No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm. ~ Martin Luther King Jr

Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant

5. Be quick to admit it when you are wrong and give others the benefit of the doubt.

Major General Grant
My dear General

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 further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did -- march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.

Yours very truly
A. Lincoln

When asked to do something about Grant's drinking, Lincoln replied: If I could find the brand of whiskey Grant used, I would distribute it at once to the rest of my generals.

In defense of yet another general, Lincoln wrote, I frequently make mistakes myself, in the many things I am compelled to do hastily.

Lincoln publicly took the blame when Cameron was censured for gross mismanagement of funds for supplies in the early part of the war. Lincoln said that the unfortunate contracts for worthless supplies were a result of the emergency nature of that time and he and his cabinet were at least "equally responsible." Cameron was ever after thankful for that act of graciousness.

7. When you throw dirt, you lose ground (Texas Proverb)

When we blame others or another excuse for our lack of success, we are relinquishing the responsibility for our life and are diminished accordingly. Blame switches us from victors to victims. When you accept all the responsibility for your success or failure, you can focus on the solutions, not the problems. It may seem easier at the time to blame an excuse or someone else for your failure, but the long term consequences are far more damaging. Accepting responsibility not only allows you to maintain control, but others around you are profoundly impressed when you do. Own it, learn from it and move on.

Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Those skilled in the martial arts have always known the secret of true power in conflict.

To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill."
~ Sun-Tsu

Resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent's attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him. This can apply whatever the relative values of power, thus making it possible for weaker opponents to beat significantly stronger ones. This is the theory of ju yoku go o seisu (gentlenes beats strength) ~ Jigoro Kano (Founder of Judo)

The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants. ~ Gichin Funakoshi

If you don't want to lose ground in your endeavors, resist the urge to attack your opponents and let their own momentum be the force that frees you up to be successful. As I said in my "Polemics" article, the candidate that has the ability to conduct a clean campaign while the opponent is slinging mud will usually so impress the voters that they wind up winning. At any rate, your character is the ultimate beneficiary and that always makes you the winner.

8. Lead through inspiration and success will follow.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

High sentiments always win in the end, The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic. ~ George Orwell

It is June, 1940. France has just signed an armistice with Hitler and the people of England were next. You can imagine the fear and hopelessness that could have easily broke loose. Winston Churchill addressed the country in one his most inspirational speeches of the war:

...the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

9. Ten Powerful Ways you can encourage and inspire others

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. ~ Mother Teresa

a. Seek and value their input. When they respond, stop what you are doing and be fully engaged in the act of listening.

b. Take their ideas seriously and acknowledge their ideas in front of others.

c. Treat them with dignity and respect and as individuals of worth.

c. Repeat compliments you've heard about them.

d. When you tell them they have done a good job, be specific about what you appreciate.

e. When you do have to offer criticism, stress the opportunity for growth and insight. Tell them how they can do it better next time.

f. Be visible, available and approachable--share a mistake you've made and how you profited from it.

g.When appropriate, demonstrate leadership by taking public responsibility for their mistake or omission or ignore it completely.

h. Seek their forgiveness immediately when you have offended them.

i. Set an example by smiling when you see them and be positive and encouraging.

j. Be consistently honest with them.

As helpful and as worthy the advice in this article may be and as inspiring as the examples of other leaders are, there will come times when you are tempted to take the low road and vent your frustration, disgust or anger on others. You will even be tempted to make a scapegoat out of them and rid yourself of all responsibility for whatever problem you face by placing it squarely upon their shoulders--even to the extent of ridiculing them in the process.

Let me just say this to you. You are better than that. You deserve to have control of your life and others will become better as they see your character in action. Take it from one who has struggled with this on an almost daily basis. When you feel yourself about to take an action that will demean you and hurt others, ask yourself this question: "How can I improve what I am about to do?" Nine times out of ten, the "angels of your better nature," as Lincoln put it, will prevail and your integrity will move up a notch. If I have not given you sufficient reasons in this article, I take full responsibility for that and ask you to supply what I have missed. You have taken the time to read this and that tells me you already have what you need to succeed. I applaud you and welcome your input.


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    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hello good friend,

      Thank you for those kind words. As one of those who have learned so much from you I am honored to be able to return the favor, however small.

      Thank you again for the visit and read. =: )

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 

      5 years ago from Canada

      well said and well put, and I agree with it all! Sorry I haven't read this sooner, I wish I had.... I can learn from you!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Thank you Phoebe, you are gracious, as always. Nice to see you. =: )

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 

      6 years ago

      Another amazing hub, as always.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Dora, you are right about a few. It would probably be more effective to break it up into at least two. Thank you for the suggestion and for the lovely comment. May we all learn to win by generosity. =: )

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      This is a great hub, more like a few great hubs. Magic is one of my all-time favorites and I like the lessons you illustrate from his game. All the principles you promote here are success oriented. Voted Up and Useful.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hello my favorite feline! I don't know if I have ever received a better compliment so succinctly put. Thank you FP, you are greatly appreciated. =: )

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      6 years ago

      Very well written, as always. I must commend the research that has gone into this hub, and how well you have woven it all together. There's always something to learn when you decide to voice your thoughts, Winsome! :)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Sherri, thank you for your insightful comment. Real leaders have been in short supply lately, I have hopes that another Honest Abe is just now learning from his mistakes and will step up to enter into leadership in this country, but I am even more hopeful that ordinary people like you and members of the HP community will exercise that quiet strength of character that will change the country from the inside out--homes, schools, workplaces and who knows, even politics.

      Thanks again for the visit and solid comment. =: )

    • sherrituck profile image

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      I agree with your comments. It's human nature to try to save face when we make mistakes. This is why people try to implicate others as an effort to draw attention away from their respective flaws. It takes a real leader to make a mistake; admit that he or she is wrong; learn from that mistake; and become and even better leader. To whom do we offer more respect: the leader that learns from his or her mistake or the leader who hides from the error or blames others. Great Read!


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