In November 2014, I finished reading “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book covers Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet members. Fabulous book! Well written. It develops and shows the personalities, characters, and actions of the men and women closest to Abraham Lincoln, his cabinet, and administration leading up to and through the American Civil War.
This post catalogs leadership principles and character qualities that stood out to me while reading the book.
Leadership Principles & Characteristics
Lincoln forgave men who didn’t deserve it. He conferred positions on men who he had no reason to honor based on their behavior towards him. This served him well; he earned many lifelong friends and trusted allies through this behavior.
During one of his senate races, Lincoln sacrificed himself and his delegates to ensure his party would win the race. The grateful Lyman Trumbull ended up helping with his presidential candidacy later.
He awarded Chase with the Chief Justiceship despite Chase’s presidential ambition and attempts to harm Lincoln’s reputation while seeking the nomination for the Republican Party when Lincoln ran for his 2nd term.
Chase quoted scripture from the Bible, but was blind to his own character flaws and the harm he did his fellow cabinet members and the President.
Lincoln gave Stanton the Secretary of War Department position despite Stanton having insulted him during a patent trial in Cincinnati years earlier.
Do not criticize a servant to his master
In context, Lincoln was telling somebody not to criticize one of his cabinet members and quoted a verse from Proverbs 30. This can be applicable in a modern work context as well. If a manager is pleased with the work if his employee and you have complaints to bring, you may be cursed by the manager.
Push for progress at the right pace and right time
Lincoln constantly gauged the opinions of the people – the common folks, soldiers, politicians. He pushed for progress and moved towards emancipation, but as President he moved slower than the radical Republicans wanted, and faster than conservatives.
Lincoln befriended Frederick Douglass and this friendship helped him to improve his perception and views regarding black men.
He balanced his cabinet geographically and from disparate segments of the Republican Party. He did this to achieve unity and hold the party together. He used these men for their amazing talents.
Montgomery Blair revolutionized the postal service. Gideon Welles modernized the navy. Salmon P. Chase helped fund the war via the Treasury. William Henry Seward negotiated with foreign powers and contributed key insights to Lincoln. Edward Bates fought important legal issues for the administration. Edwin M. Stanton brought together a mighty military force.
Lincoln deferred to the views of his cabinet members when they told him he was wrong and had good reason for it.
Lincoln told stories to make a point. He used the anecdotes to make a point that would otherwise take much more time or resonate less with the hearer.
Humor, poetry, and stories helped Lincoln to relax.
Sum of the Man
Lincoln had many good qualities one can learn about and take as examples for living. I aim to apply these character qualities in my own life and have had opportunities to consider and attempt to implement them since reading the book.