Abraham Lincoln is still a symbol of the best of America, and in 2008 historian Doris Kearns Goodwin listed the ten qualities that made Lincoln such a great leader as well as the qualities we should look for in our present leaders.
1. The Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View
While researching her Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Kearns Goodwin learned that Lincoln had the capacity to listen to different points of view. He created a climate where Cabinet members were free to disagree without fear of retaliation. At the same time, he knew when to stop the discussion and, after listening to the various opinions, make a final decision.
2. The Ability to Learn on the Job
Lincoln was able to acknowledge errors, learn from them, and then move on. In this way, he established a culture of learning in his administration, said Kearns Goodwin.
3. A Ready Willingness to Share Credit for Success
In response to concerns expressed by friends about the actions of some of his Cabinet members, Lincoln stated that the “path to success and ambition is broad enough for two,” reported Kearns Goodwin. When there was success, Lincoln shared the credit with all of those involved.
4. A Ready Willingness to Share Blame for Failure
When mistakes were made by members of his Cabinet, Lincoln stood up for them. When contracts related to the war effort raised serious questions about a member of his administration, Lincoln spoke up and indicated that he and his entire Cabinet were to blame.
5. An Awareness of His Own Weaknesses
Kearns Goodwin noted that one of the weaknesses acknowledged by Lincoln was his tendency to give people too many chances and, because he was aware of it, he was able to compensate for that weakness. As an example, she stated that George McClellan, Commander in Chief of the Union Army, refused to follow directives about the war effort. Lincoln set a deadline and eventually removed McClellan from the position.
6. The Ability to Control His Emotions
According to Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln treated those he worked with well. However, he did get angry and frustrated, so he found a way to channel those emotions. He was known to sit down and write what he referred to as a “hot letter” to the individual he was angry with. Then he would set the letter aside and not send it. If he did lose his temper, Lincoln would follow up with a kind gesture or letter to let the individual know he was not holding a grudge, said Kearns Goodwin. She noted that one of the letters was released as part of Lincoln’s Presidential papers with a notation that it was never signed nor sent.
7. The Knowledge of How to Relax and Replenish
Lincoln understood the importance of relaxation and humor to shake of the stress of the day and to replenish himself for the challenges of the next day. According to Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tell funny stories. He encouraged a healthy atmosphere of laughter and fun in his administration. He also enjoyed going to the theater and spending time with friends.
8. The Ability to Go Out into the Field and Manage Directly
During the Civil War, many soldiers died and there were many ups and downs. Lincoln established lasting connections with the troops by visiting the battlefield and hospitals, which also helped bolster morale. Lincoln also spent time talking with members of the public, taking “public opinion baths,” according to Kearns Goodwin. He held public receptions and made a point of shaking everyone’s hand and speaking to each individual.
9. The Strength to Adhere to Fundamental Goals
In the summer of 1964, said Kearns Goodwin, the war was not going well for the North. Members of his political party came to Lincoln and said that there was no way to win the war and he might need to compromise on slavery. Lincoln held firm on the issue of slavery and turned away from this advice.
10. The Ability to Communicate His Goals and Vision
Kearns Goodwin stated that Lincoln had a “remarkable ability to communicate his goals to his countrymen.” He made concepts simple and communicated with an understanding of the concerns of the citizens.
When the war ended and he won reelection, Lincoln did not focus on his achievements. Rather, in his second inaugural speech, Lincoln focused on bringing the country together as expressed in the following excerpt: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Tom Kellum is a job hunting consultant, helping people's dreams come true since 1987. He specializes in providing a personal job-landing service based on proven marketing strategies and methods. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.