Reading Time: 2 minutes

My book review is on Donald T. Phillips’ book – Lincoln on Leadership. According to Phillips, Lincoln believed in people, in individual rights, and in the need stay close to your people. His views on people greatly shaped his leadership style. He was easy to get along with, dispensing compliments readily, keeping his door open when possible, and wandering around to talk to others frequently. Some takeaways include:

  • Build alliances with the people around you, with customers, and with competitors. Alliances can build strength, while divisiveness can create weakness.
  • Get to know people well – so you can predict how they will behave in various situations, and particularly when they are under stress. Listen carefully – especially to those who are closest to your customers.
  • Be quick to forgive. Take the high road. Avoid pettiness, vengeance, and maliciousness. Show the “better angels of your nature.” (p. 64) If you are angry, write a letter and don’t send it.
  • And my favorite story (in this book) told by Lincoln – “Gentlemen, suppose all the property you were worth was in gold and this you had placed in the hands of [one man] to carry across the Niagara River on a rope. Would you shake the cable and keep shouting at him: ‘Stand up a little straighter; stoop a little more, go a little faster, go a little slower, lean a little more to the south?’ No, you would hold your breath, as well as your tongue, and keep your hands off until he got safely over. The Government is carrying an enormous weight. Untold treasure is in their hands. Don’t badger them. Keep silence and we will get you safely across.” (p. 91)
  • Take the time to find the right people – your ‘generals.’ And get comfortable with the paradoxes of leadership – the balancing need for both consistency and flexibility, trust with verification, and risk-taking, resulting in mistakes made. Opt for persuasion over coercion. Seek compromise when warranted. Create energy in your subordinates and peers by clearly communicating your powerful vision.