(Note: Time to go to Uganda…hence the early post! Hugs, friends!)
As a former political science major, I love politics. I love historical biographies, and I especially love reading about Presidents of the United States. George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are my favorite subject matters! It should come as no surprise, then, that I eagerly flipped through this lengthy work while traveling around the globe. What I loved about Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin was that it not simply chronicled the political career of Abraham Lincoln, but it was nearly a quadruple biography to include the historical narratives of William Henry Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, who started as political adversaries for Lincoln as he ran for office, became his trusted advisers and even cabinet members. Instead of surrounding himself those who would support his policies, he compiled a group of men with superb knowledge and experience, and Lincoln displayed the political and personal acumen to create consensus for forming a more perfect union. I especially enjoyed reading of Lincoln’s relationship with William Seward of New York, who served as his Secretary of State. Though the two fought as adversaries in Republican primary, and Seward accepted the cabinet position thinking he would become the true leader of the country, they put aside their differences to hold together the republic in its most vulnerable state.
In the spirit of the “save time summaries” edition of Team of Rivals, the following are a few of my Abraham Lincoln, leader extraordinaire, key take-aways:
1) As a leader, Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with great leaders of like mind and opposing mind. It is easy to surround yourself with those who think like you and act like you. As a person who shies away from conflict, I am especially vulnerable to inviting those who agree with me into my inner circle. Lincoln thought otherwise. He welcomed opposing points-of-view, especially in the decision-making process. When he compiled the men for his cabinet, he included those who would not simply give him nods of approval and automatic yeses. He chose men who would challenge him. Seward, though originally his rival, proved to be one of Lincoln’s closest confidants, reviewing his speeches and adding candor before he presented actions to Congress. Another great leader of our time who exemplifies this principle is Colin Powell. Years ago, I heard him speak to this point exactly. When he served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he would invite his Joint Chiefs of Staff into the meeting room and present a problem or dilemma to them. He gave each member thirty minutes to offer his personal opinions. Then, he sent everyone away, and privately weighed the points and made the ultimate decision.
2) This leads directly into a second take away – a leader actively listens and responds, especially to those whom the decisions effect. Lincoln displayed a compassionate heart, and he felt the weight of his policies. He did not make last minute, knee-jerk reactions, but he thoughtfully listened and shouldered the magnitude of his decisions and their consequences. Lincoln was a visionary and consistently kept the bigger picture in mind.
3) Timing is key. Lincoln strategically implemented his policies with his uncanny ability to analyze and decipher the political climate. This was exemplified in his implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation. Based on Seward’s advice, Lincoln issued the proclamation following a major Union victory (Battle of Antietam), so as not to appear weak in the face of retreat.
4) It does not matter where you came from or who your parents are. You are can overcome any circumstances to succeed. Lincoln came from humble beginnings, yet he never once used his upbringing as an excuse. Though defeated often in elections, he moved forward with perseverance. He stuck to his principles and his passion for ending slavery, and continuously challenged himself to make wise and reasonable decisions to better his future and the future of the country.
5) All leaders should hone their public speaking skills and delivery. Lincoln could connect with listeners, whether in a small gathering or in a large crowd. The Gettysburg Address is a perfect example. Lincoln was not the keynote speaker at the dedication, yet his short and sweet words resonated with his contemporaries and throughout the generations to today. He intentionally selected his words and carefully calculated and compiled his speeches.
Sitting on an airplane after I finished this biography, I wondered how the world would be different had Lincoln been alive to fully serve his second term. What would reconstruction have looked like? Would he have been successful in building bridges between the north and south? Would the country have been able to move forward more quickly in healing and progression with him at the helm? And in my ultimate snarkiness, I wonder if we will ever have another great leader like him? How many of our Presidents or Congressmen today would willingly choose their rivals to serve alongside them to guide the country? Closer to home, how many of us would choose pastors to serve on our church staffs who had differing points of view? …
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.