Lincoln’s Leadership Qualities

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What leadership qualities lifted Lincoln above so many others, not just in his own place and time but in terms of all world history? Kearns Goodwin has this ten-point list:

1. He had the capacity to listen to different points of view.

2. He had the ability to learn on the job and to learn from his own mistakes, such as the terrible defeat the Union suffered at Bull Run soon after he became president.

3. He had a ready willlingness to share credit for success and to praise his colleagues.

4. Lincoln willingly shouldered the blame for the mistakes of his subordinates.

5. He had a keen awareness his own weaknesses. He was terribly reluctant to fire anyone, but eventually knew, in the case of General McClellan, that it had to be done.

6. When angry or frustrated, he could channel his emotions in safe ways. When his temper flared, he might write an accusatory letter, then leave it in a drawer, never to be sent. He did not let resentments fester, or hurts lead to revenge.

7. He knew how and when to relax and escape from extreme pressures. He could defuse tensions with a good story or joke. He regularly escaped into literature and to the dream world of the theater.

8. Lincoln’s instincts told him when and how to connect with the American people. He connected emotionally through trips to the battlefront. He knew just when to move the country and just when to make his Emancipation Proclamation.

9. He had the “courage — integrity — resolution” to adhere to core principles and his vision for the nation. Preserving the Union, to him, was proof that ordinary people can govern themselves. A healed American Union was the vessel for maintaining the founding principle that “All men are created equal.”

10. Last of all, Lincoln had a remarkable ability to communicate his goals and values to his countrymen. His healing words, “with malice toward none,” came just six weeks before President Lincoln’s untimely death.

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