With the re-election of President Obama many questions have arisen about his strategy in the upcoming years. One reporter cleverly asked him what would be the one book he would take with him, after the Bible. The book he said was the best selling account of President Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War.
It is very important to note that Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style was different than that of many men of his time. Instead of picking his friends, Abe chose to pick his rivals to service in cabinet. Now Obama has chosen to take this model from Abe and put this to good use.
This may sound strange to you to choose your rivals to be part of your cabinet but what Abe and Obama are doing is to choose the most able candidate for the job., so as not to discriminate against political parties.
If the new president can learn from Abraham Lincoln, so can business leaders of today. Since the recession businesses have been struggling to keep there business from going bankrupt. These tough times are when great leadership in a company stands above the rest.
Interested by this topic, HBR senior editor Diane Coutu interviewed author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Who is known for No Ordinary Time and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.
During this two hour interview, Goodwin described the qualities which Lincoln had that could bring together such a diverse group to create the most unusual cabinet in history.
So what leadership qualities were these two Presidents embracing that has led them to success in their presidency?
First of all, during the election President Obama focused on discussing how Lincoln surrounded himself with people including his rivals, who had strong egos and high ambitions. The people he surrounded himself with had no problem questioning his authority and were not afraid to challenge what he was thinking about. You might be saying well this is bad because they aren’t following him and being disobedient But bosses give orders yet great leaders encourage engagement. This is what distinguishes him from just being a boss.
A great example of hiring enemies was when Lincoln brought Salmon Chase into his cabinet. Lincoln knew that Chase craved the Presidency with every fiber of his being. But as long as he was doing a good job he didn’t mind his personal feelings. Obama is doing the same thing with his presidency by choosing chief rival, Hilary Clinton and also Joe Biden as his Vice President.
It is not enough to choose you rivals. The point is to choose the best of the best and to choose people that can lead just as well as you. Lincoln came to power when the nation was in a terrible state and he needed the best people by his side to lead the country. This is an important aspect whether you’ re president or CEO of a company.
When creating a team of rivals there are risks with so many different views there is the possibility of a lot of arguing late into the night without coming to a clear consensus. This can be very detrimental to a team but this is where a great leader steps in. A great leader steps in and makes the best decision possible given the available resources. The leader makes the decision” Like it or not, here’s what we’re doing.”
A great example of this would be the famous Emancipation Proclamation that was implemented to free the slaves. Abe listened to his cabinet argue for months then finally told them he no longer needed their input on the matter and made a decision. He then told them to figure out the best way to implement his decision.
So what are these essential qualities of a successful leader?
1. The most critical elements of a successful leader was the ability to surround yourself with people who would argue and question their assumptions.
2. The ability to effectively share credit for work that is given, so everyone is a successful part of the team and feel part of the mission. When positive and negative events occur the entire team can acknowledge both. Lincoln took responsibility for what he did and he shared the responsibility for the mistakes of others. This is why people became so loyal to Lincoln during his presidency.
3. The ability to connect to a larger crowd, Lincoln did this through speeches that had a lot of poetry and people felt as if they were watching him think and that he was telling the truth.
4. One more aspect that was added into the interview that is usually overlooked said the author, is knowing how to relax so that you can prepare for what’s tomorrow.
Great leaders knew that they needed to relax so they could keep leading the people to a better country. Lincoln would go to the theater while he was in Washington and even Franklin Roosevelt would have cocktail parties where he would entertain his guests long into the evening.
The final interview question to the author was ” What does Lincoln’s magic as a leader really come down to”?
The biggest thing was just his charisma. A lot of people didn’t like Lincoln or took some time for them to like him once he came into office, but eventually they warmed up to Lincoln with his charismatic nature. Lincoln’s greatest flaw came out of his strengths, being that he generally liked everyone and was very eager to give people second and third chances. Overall Lincoln was emotionally intelligent and he was very emphatic when it came to other people’s feeling. These are essential characteristics for a leader of any time.
“Invest in people, not ideas” said Michael Karnjanaprakorn venture capital investor for companies like Apple, Intel and Teledyne. It has also been said that you should invest in a team of Grade A entrepreneurs with a Grade B idea as opposed to the other way around. Great entrepreneurs come up with great ideas and then make them take off.