I have a goal to read a biography about every President of the United States. People ask me why I want to do such a thing. They wonder what value such an effort will bring. Some have suggested that there are certain Presidents I shouldn’t waste my time on. They may be right, and I may adjust my goal. Yet, we can learn great leadership lessons from these individuals, so I will press forward.
Progress on the Goal
To date I’ve read the following biographies:
- John Adams by David McCullough
- Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I have a few more to read, but I’m moving forward next with [amazon_textlink asin=’0143119966′ text=’Washington, A Life by Ron Chernow’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’markpeterson’ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9dfb8b92-10c1-11e7-aa22-9b545b658d59′]
From each of these men I have learned valuable lessons, and you’ll find various blog posts about those leadership lessons in my archives. Today I’ll share three leadership lessons that I learned from Abraham Lincoln.
1. Great leaders have advisors who disagree with them.
This is one of the premises of Goodwin’s book. Lincoln recognized the value of a team of advisors who had strong views that ran contrary to his. He was not threatened by their strength or cowed by their convictions. He listened to them, debated with them, negotiated with them, and led them. His pride was not so great that they couldn’t convince him, nor his convictions so weak that he couldn’t overrule them. The magnitude of his accomplishments as President stands on this great leadership trait.
2. Great leaders bear the weight and responsibility of others.
This is a hard pill to swallow for many leaders, but Lincoln was a master. On countless occasions, Lincoln took responsibility for the mistakes and failures of others. On many occasions, he even refused to allow his staff and generals to “fall on their swords” claiming that he alone bore the responsibility. He refused tendered resignations. He reported the loss of great battles as his failure. This magnanimity extended to those who failed due to negligence or carelessness. The lesson learned is this: great leaders take the heat regardless of the origin of that heat.
3. Great leaders take the time to refresh their souls.
People often criticized Lincoln for telling funny stories during very dark times. They criticized him for going to the theater when so many were dying in the war. They criticized him for trips away from Washington, which required valuable resources and put him at unnecessary risk. But Lincoln knew that he needed these distractions. More importantly, he knew that his team needed them. He understood the emotional strain they were under. He knew that strain needed a release. He recognized that great leaders must keep their minds and souls healthy. So, despite their ridicule, he laughed and made others laugh, and he relaxed and encouraged others to as well. He refreshed his soul. As a result, when lesser men would have collapsed, he drove on and changed the world!
There are countless other lessons to learn from Lincoln and other great leaders. For now, I’ll leave the learning to you. Pick up one of the books listed above and discover your own leadership lessons today, or read one of the posts listed here.
Get Over Yourself and Follow Your Leader
Leadership Lessons from a President
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