One may assume that with the volumes of published material on the life and leadership of Abraham Lincoln, nothing more remains to be written. Doris Kearns Goodwin through her book A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln proves that assumption wrong. She does provide some fresh insights on the man who from being an unknown rough country lawyer who had lost two contests for the U.S. Senate and served one average term in the House of Representatives, then went on to become the 16th president of the United States.
Goodwin’s book written in elegant style allows for easy reading, providing a glimpse of one of the most unusual and extraordinary combination of character, conviction, courage, communication skills, leadership and political acumen all wrapped in a single individual. Very few people of the likes of Abraham Lincoln have risen to the ranks of leadership before or after him.
Although Lincoln’s nomination surprised many who attributed it to chance, or to his position on the issue of slavery, his victory and success as a leader is found to be shaped by the prior defeats he suffered, the privation he had endured, the strength and stability of his emotional and intellectual formation. Lincoln’s unprecedented and outstanding move to include his rivals into the cabinet demonstrated the level of courage he possessed, the confidence with which he carried himself and his astute political strategy; a laudable human and political accomplishment to have converted his rivals and adversaries, each one deeply hurt and disappointed by his nomination, into his admirers, friends and team mates. The manner in which Goodwin has woven into the narrative the biographies of three or these individuals Seward, Chase and Bates highlighting roles they played in keeping America stable during a very trying and difficult time makes the book an interesting read and one that will definitely draw my attention quite a few times in the future.
My take away from the reading are the following principles that seem to have formed the bedrock of Lincoln’s successful leadership:
First and foremost: standing by and tenaciously holding on to moral and ethical values with consistency at all times lies at the crux of successful leadership. Such leaders automatically gain the respect of others around them; leaders with such conviction naturally create a culture of trust and accountability.
Secondly, effective communication skill is indispensible for a leader. The incredible amount of time, effort and energy Lincoln poured into his letters and speeches working arduously over them over extended periods of time. Writing, rewriting and rehearsing his speeches asking others to critique them certainly. The ability to communicate effective is developed over a long period of time. One often fails to consider the hard work that goes behind the visible success of leaders. Success is the fruit of consistent labour over things that matter.
Thirdly, the primary task of a leader is to build a strong and powerful team that is always willing to go the extra mile. The criteria for choosing people to be on the team is not like mindedness and the drive for consensus but experience, skill, knowledge and the acumen to recognize and point out gaps.
Finally, good leaders give and receive constructive feedback. Lincoln never seems to have hesitated to ask for and seriously consider the opinions of people close to him. One of the strengths of successful leaders is their readiness to take ownership and responsibility for mistakes, correct themselves and courageously face the consequences and move forward.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of
Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
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