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Abraham Lincoln: Leadership Lessons

Updated on July 22, 2011

Leadership Lessons From A Great American President - Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. His story is one of the most told stories in American history. He served as president in an incredibly unsettled time. He had victories, and he had defeats. He did things well, and he did things poorly. In the process, he demonstrated some great leadership traits. Looking at his life, we can learn from his experience and become better leaders ourselves.

Five Leadership Lesssons We Can Learn From Abraham Lincoln

Looking closely at Lincoln's behavior during his presidency, you can see many great leadership lessons. I'll mention five of them here.

1. Build a strong team.

In 1855, Abraham Lincoln was slighted and insulted by Edwin M. Stanton, his co-counsel, in the McCormick-Manny patent infringement case. Stanton said that he would not work with "such a damned, gawky, long-armed ape as that."

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the Republican Party presidential nominee. Entering the convention he was rated behind William Seward of New York and in the mix with Salmon Chase of Ohio and Edward Bates of Missouri.

After he became President of the United States, he nominated:

  • William Seward to be his Secretary of State
  • Salmon Chase to be his Secretary of Treasury, and
  • Edward Bates to be his Attorney General
In 1862, nearly one year after the Civil War began, he had to replace his Secretary of War. He chose Edwin Stanton.

When he had to build a team, he built one in spite of initial personal animosity rather than because of close relationship. From this group of competing and, in some cases, openly antagonistic people, he built a team that helped him to ultimately hold the Union together.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals details this process really well.

2. Use stories to convey your message.

One of the most noted and long-remembered parts of Lincoln's persona was his ability to tell stories. Many historians point to his ability to tell appropriate stories as part of the "magic" that drew people to him once they got to know him.

3. Persuade more than you coerce.

Lincoln seldom used the power of his office to force compliance with his wishes. He told stories. He met with people. He wrote letters. If necessary, he could be quite direct. Sometimes he had to go that route with people. Most of the time he worked to persuade people rather than to coerce them.

4. Learn to speak in public.

Lincoln was a noted public speaker. Much of his influence is attributed to his ability to deliver a message publicly.

5. Master and become comfortable with paradox.

Lincoln was able to handle the tension of living in paradox. For example:

  • He built his cabinet from political rivals.
  • He looked past personal slights and insult to build strong alliances (Edwin Stanton).
  • He was consistent in his principles and flexible in his pursuit of fulfilling them.
  • He understood both compassion and accountability.
  • He took risks, he created new approaches, and he demonstrated patience in his timing.

For more insights on Lincoln, I strongly recommend each of the books listed below.

Abraham Lincoln Quotes

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

"I have always wanted to deal with everyone I meet candidly and honestly. If I have made any assertion not warranted by facts, and it is pointed out to me, I will withdraw it cheerfully."

"Half finished work generally proves to be labor lost..."

"If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend."

"I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take."

"I determined to be so clear that no honest man could misunderstand me and no dishonest one could successfully misrepresent me."

"No man [who has] resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention."

"I'll study and get ready, and then the chance will come."

"On the whole, my impression is that mercy bears richer fruits than any other attribute."

All quotes from Words Lincoln Lived By, Gene Griessman,1997.

Books That Tell the Story of Lincoln's Leadership Skills

Some Lincoln Videos at YouTube

What do you think? What did you learn from looking at the life of Lincoln?

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      ryanmickley 5 years ago

      Has anyone read "Killing Lincoln" By Bill O'Reilly? I think this book captures all the leadership qualities of Lincoln and beautifully edifies the reader through the power of story. Instead of just listing Lincoln's leadership attributes, Killing Lincoln displays his leadership through examples throughout his life's story. Great read.

    • Onethindime LM profile image

      Onethindime LM 5 years ago

      Great insights. He really was a great leader.

    • profile image

      shashikantdabral 5 years ago


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      LuizAvila 5 years ago

      Lincoln was the best politician by far!

    • profile image

      supersiva 5 years ago

      Great leader and inspirational role model for the youngsters till date

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 5 years ago

      Great lens! I was recently at the Ford's Theatre site, where they have opened a new center on leadership as epitomized by Lincoln. He truly was a great leader, and our greatest president.

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      3levels 6 years ago

      I think your lesson #5 was especially insightful. Thanks.

    • PlethoraReader profile image

      Matthew 6 years ago from Silicon Valley

      Loved reading some of the books on him including Team of Rivals as well as this article which I thoroughly enjoyed. Great job

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 6 years ago from Albany New York

      Loved reading the quotes. Very nicely done lens.

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      aquarian_insight 6 years ago

      I think he was one of the most well known and respected American Presidents outside of the States. Great lens with the words of a great man.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 6 years ago

      Wonderful lessons by Abraham lincoln one of the greatest men in US history :)

    • DogWatchColumbus profile image

      DogWatchColumbus 6 years ago

      I loved Lincoln's five lessons!

    • VSP profile image

      VSP 6 years ago

      Will feature this lens on my on Monday. Good Job.

    • profile image

      mdeakub 6 years ago

      Good post. Full of insight. Thanks!

    • profile image

      friendshipquotes 6 years ago

      great man with great thoughts! He will be remembered always...

    • profile image

      TheBlairGroup 6 years ago

      Great lens!

    • Violin-Student profile image

      Violin-Student 7 years ago

      I'm a definite fan of the sixteenth President. I'm even a big Lincoln Cent collector. (Flying Eagles and Indian Heads too.) One of the more interesting books I've read concerns the actions of the government immediately after the assassination...April 1865. We can learn as much from that short time as from Lincoln himself!

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      augustine1121 7 years ago

      Congrats on a great lens! I would add another book to your list, Lincoln the Unknown written by Dale Carnegie. I don't know if this book is general circulation, but if you could find it is a phenomenal read!

    • The Coaching Re profile image

      The Coaching Re 8 years ago

      This is a really nice lens. I too am a fan of Abraham Lincoln, his speeches still seem as fresh today as I am sure they were when he delivered them.

      Good luck with this initiative,


      The Leadership Coach

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 9 years ago

      Great lens on a great president! Please join the new Squidoo group Rulers and Royalty!

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      ThomasC 9 years ago

      This a very nice lens on President Lincoln! Great Job on it!

      Blessing it for you!