I continue to draw and glean from our reading of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. In the several weeks since I finished our reading there are several traits that I continue to reflect upon, ones I hope to carry with me in my own leadership development.
Among the traits and political genius of Abraham Lincoln was his recognition and commitment to develop capacity within those that served alongside him and the American people at large. “Lincoln had long believed, as we have seen, that ‘with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.’” His “timing” seems to have been perfected from his many years as he traveled as an iterant lawyer among the towns of the west. He understood people. And he understood that without developing within people the capacity to change or to accept change your result would be failure. His ability to create and develop capacity was sourced in his deliberate and intentional manner by which he constructed his communication with the people. When public address was necessary Lincoln would thoughtfully determine the forum in which he would respond, making every effort to “ensure that his words would shape public opinion.” Lincoln’s efforts were not manipulation but a presentation of logic, constructed in such a way that the public at large would understand, informing their own decision. The result was a “full, candid, clear and conclusive” letter.
Even when others criticized him for appearing to be hesitant to respond, as Frederick Douglass was of the President concerning the obstacles facing the recruitment of black soldiers due to white prejudice. All the while Lincoln had already been at work forming his response. (This is another characteristic of Lincoln – he had an uncanny ability to anticipate situations and be prepared for them when they arose). Meeting with Douglass, Lincoln listened to his concerns, then communicated and explained the reasoning behind his perceived inaction. “Douglass was particularly impressed by Lincoln’s justification for delaying the retaliatory order until the public mind was prepared for it.” In this particular situation where black soldiers had not received equal pay to white soldiers nor received the enlistment bounty, it was Lincoln’s patience and perhaps even his confidence in the black soldiers themselves that prevailed upon the public to recognize the justice in equal pay. He continued to lead in such a way that rather than have change be a directive put upon the people, he eventually led people toward emancipation.
Developing capacity requires determination, patience and confidence both in yourself as a leader and confidence in the people you lead. I have witnessed a lack of capacity development in churches moving too quickly to change approaches in mission or worship styles leaving parishioners disillusioned or dismayed. I have also participated in capacity development, especially in my initial seminary studies at George Fox. It is happening now in our DMin studies. Capacity is not only developed in others it is something that develops in us.
Accepting responsibility. Two words that carry enormous weight and influence. “The President knew that he would ultimately be held responsible for the choices of his administration.” When a general took action beyond his authority or failed to act promptly, whether this pertained to a general or a cabinet member Lincoln recognized his position and whom others would hold accountable, himself. This did not mean that he let things slide, he held others accountable on one hand and with the other most often affirmed that individual’s strengths.
Remarkable on many fronts, Lincoln was not deterred by the ambition of his Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase. In fact there is much to learn reflectively on the effect of life and the manner in which we respond to life’s hardships. Chase’s lifelong desire for the Presidency seemed to have blinded him from his own faults and factors contributing to his elusive prize, while also blinding him from recognizing the leadership of the man he served on behalf of the nation. In the book, Failure of Nerve published posthumously, Rabbi Edwin Friedman recognizes that sabotage will occur, not if or when. The needed action does not rely in eliminating or putting the individual(s) in their proper place, but in the leader. “The key to that positioning is the leader’s own self-differentiation, by which I mean his or her capacity to be a non-anxious presence, a challenging presence, a well-defined presence, and a paradoxical presence.” These words describe Lincoln. In a time of crisis, Lincoln displayed a non-anxious presence even when under threat. “Differentiation is not about being coercive, manipulative, reactive, pursuing or invasive, but being rooted in the leader’s own sense of self rather than focused on that of his or her followers.” This was Lincoln. In recognizing this trait in Lincoln I began to recognize how I have stepped back from confrontation or even subtle given in to the desire to have a team where everyone is on board. Rather than step back, step toward, embrace.
Interestingly Lincoln’s differentiation and non-anxious presence stemmed, I think from his own life experiences and hardships. Lincoln’s life was marked by tragedy and poverty, yet rather than harden him, these challenging life experiences gave him a level of compassion that was part of his very essence. His life transformed him. Lincoln’s empathy is the feature that seems to have been at the very core of what made him such a remarkable leader in a desperate time. “His speaking went to the heart because it came from the heart.”
 Ibid., 552.
 Goodwin, 163.