President Abraham Lincoln is by far my favorite US president. No matter the book, article, or social media conversation about him, I get this sense that there is a consistent honesty about his life, legacy, and leadership, even amongst his rivals. Doris Kearns Goodwin highlights several of his leadership characteristics in her book The Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Three features were especially fascinating to me: Lincoln’s temperament, choice of leadership team, and connection with large and small crowds.
Lincoln’s Kind Temperament
Sitting in a conference one day, I heard a speaker share that it is better to be nice than to be right. Even if you are right, remain humble, patient, and kind. President Lincoln generally came across as a kind, caring, and compassionate man. It was typical for Lincoln not to follow quick whims or make personal snap decisions. Rather than allowing these to be the leading tone of emotions in his family or presidential life, he chose to model steadfastness and a balanced temperament. These attractive qualities are needed in our culture today.
Lincoln’s Diverse Team
Some of Lincoln’s team members were elected, and others were appointed by President Lincoln himself. Unlike today’s political, business, education, or local church teams, Lincoln welcomed leaders into his circles that did not have the same ideology as him. I consider this brilliance. He was able to get the best minds around the table on a topic, whether they were in support of or against a bill, his party, or his presidency. It seems that the president was intentional about gaining the best understanding of an issue without necessarily focusing on which side that the source of truth spoke. Maybe the beauty in it all is that all along he had the people’s best interest in mind. To listen to and understand rivals in an effort to advance the greater cause is a remarkable ability.
Lincoln’s Calming Presence
As an orator and an excellent writer in his own right, President Lincoln moved both small and large crowds. After speaking before a large audience, he would often meet and greet the people. He was a calming presence for them. No matter the situation – a drawn out civil war or controversial bills – he seemed always try to come across as a gentleman and lean toward affirmation. He was a very tall man with a welcoming posture and a warm vibe, using his stature to his advantage. As history tells it, there is no doubt that he was the right leader for his era and that his influence, people skills, and calculated charm provide a model for all leaders to learn from.
Today, the US can use another Lincoln. If nothing else, all political teams need to go back and read The Team of Rivals. We are living in crucial and pivotal moments in history. Nevertheless, we can navigate the choppy waters with guidance from above and from the lives of past great leaders like President Lincoln.