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Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times

Lincoln on Leadership
Book (with additional video)
Donald T. Phillips
Recommended by: T. Scott Pinkley, Youth Group Leader, Member of the Missouri Leadership Library, Division of Youth Services, Department of Social Services
Additional Video
Title: Lincoln on Leadership for Today: A Presentation by Donald T. Phillips, Part 1
Date: May 27, 2017

What is your suggestion about?

President Abraham Lincoln is one of the most studied leaders in history. But something important was missing before Donald Phillips wrote Lincoln on Leadership. Phillips relates in his book’s his surprise when he started his research on President Lincoln and realized he was plowing untilled ground. No one had yet written a book on Lincoln and leadership. Indeed, the Lincoln Library, which keeps an exhaustive inventory of works about our 16th president, could only find three articles dealing with the topic.

Descriptions of President Lincoln visiting his generals on the battlefield inspired Phillips. The president’s practices paralleled what Phillips was learning about management and leadership, particularly the idea that executives should leave their “Ivory Towers” and “get to know their people.” What he had seen in his reading about Lincoln was what he felt was missing in much of the abstract discussions of leadership: “tangible examples from a widely recognized great leader.”

This book brings those examples to the forefront, and extracts from them specific principles – many of them in Lincoln’s own words – that leaders can apply in their own “tough times.”

Why did you choose it?

I purchased Lincoln on Leadership at an airport in 1996. I have revisited it many times since. I find the principles brought to life in the book provide the foundation to being an effective leader. Integrity, courage, and honesty were cornerstones of Lincoln’s character and his effectiveness as a leader. He quietly steered his administration daily using persuasion, excellent communication, and the full scope of his presidential power. He brought everyone in on his vision. He learned from trials and errors, emphasized positive reinforcements to resolve conflicts, and pushed for creative solutions and innovations.

The book is also an easy read. You will most likely find yourself reflecting on leaders that have made an impact in your life while envisioning how you can implement the principles into your everyday professional life. 

What else do you want to tell us about it?

Lincoln on Leadership is divided into four parts: People, Character, Endeavor, and Communication. Each part contains 3-5 chapters with titles that emphasize the leadership principles that, according to Phillips, guided Lincoln’s behavior.

Anyone who is familiar with American history knows the basic story, of course, but the author shows how the effects of Lincoln’s decisions come together to form a pattern of exemplary leadership. However, if someone is inclined to need quick references for specific lessons, Phillips caters to them by offering a bulleted recap of “Lincoln Principles” at the end of each chapter.

Donald Phillips has also produced a series of short videos on Lincoln, his life, and his leadership.

What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

We are all public servants for the State of Missouri. We have a responsibility to get better every day. We are developing together expectations for leaders at all levels. We have the responsibility to “Lead Self,” “Lead Others,” and “Lead Change.”

As noted in this book, “effective leaders are ‘reliable and tirelessly persistent’ and they are ‘the most results-oriented people in the world.’” Phillips points out several times that Lincoln’s character was evident in his ability to make tough decisions because he knew they were the right thing to do. He writes, “Lincoln tempered his unusually intense drive to achieve with an equally strong capacity to care,” pointing out that, “many leaders are unable to combine these two principles effectively.” 

Here in the State of Missouri, we have to continue to try to do both. 

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