Lincoln’s Legacy of Leadership

Two weeks ago, Diamond6 Strategy and Leadership formed a partnership with the Ford’s Theatre Society in Washington, D.C, the site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 and perhaps the most famous theater in the United States.

This is exciting news for our organization for two reasons: One, we get to use this historic and elegant venue as a place to bring clients when we run leadership seminars in the Washington, D.C. area. It’s a first class facility, with a museum and theater dedicated to preserving the legacy of President Lincoln

Second, and even more important, it gives us a great way to draw upon the leadership lessons of President Lincoln. In many ways, Abraham Lincoln has almost become synonymous with the term “leadership,” even to the most casual observers. Many historians suggest that more books have been written about Lincoln than any other Presidents, with most focusing on his leadership style and abilities. Students of leadership might immediately consider Donald Phillips’ book, Lincoln on Leadership.  Lincoln’s abilities to assemble and build an effective team are documented in Doris Kearn Goodman’s book, Team of Rivals and his skills as communicator are documented in several books such as Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer or Lincoln’s Sword by Douglas Wilson.

The ability to communicate well is fundamental to sound leadership and was demonstrated in his three most famous speeches – his two inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.  All display his talent at succinctly describing a vision and communicating it to the population, and they, along with his leadership competencies, were pivotal in helping the nation weather the storm of the American Civil War.  They are as relevant to modern leaders as they were in the 19th century.   

The Gettysburg Address was a clear example of Lincoln at his finest as a communicator, using the speech to redefine his vision for the country and the war.  Prior to Gettysburg, his goals for the war had centered on preserving the Union.  He even couched the Emancipation Proclamation in terms of how it would deprive the South of free labor and help to bring the conflict to a conclusion. At Gettysburg, however, Lincoln masterfully described a vision of a “new birth of freedom.”  Harkening back to the Declaration of Independence, he referred to the Founders’ line that “we hold these truths to be self evident that all Men are created equal,” With these few words Lincoln expanded   the vision of the war as a way end slavery forever. The speech is so clear in its purpose and the way it ties past to present, while also proclaiming a vision for the future, that New York Governor George Pataki of New York decided that the most appropriate thing he could do was simply read the Gettysburg Address when he was trying to come up with appropriate remarks for the first memorial service at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Despite the stress running the country during the Civil War, Lincoln also found time to seek a balance in his life. An avid theater goer, Lincoln often visited the theater to relax, a useful lesson for all leaders. While the theatre is sadly remembered as the place of his death, it has found a new mission as a museum dedicated to celebrating his life and preserving his vision, which was finally achieved in the mid-20th century through the civil rights movement.  Leaders from all walks of life can learn invaluable lessons from this site and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.

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This article is from our September, 2011 newsletter. Click here to view all our newsletter articles and features.

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