What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Leadership

Ten years ago, I was traveling in the US and you can’t avoid the name Lincoln as you drive around Washington and New York.  At the time I was also thinking of names for a new business venture and while there were several original names or created ones, Lincoln kept popping to the top of the list.  During this period I read up on Abraham Lincoln and his presidency and legacy. On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Lincoln Recruitment, I thought it was an interesting topic worth revisiting. 


What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Leadership

Being a good leader involves time-tested attributes, which can be seen in leaders throughout history. While celebrating our 10th anniversary, Lincoln Recruitment can recognise how the skills which our company and team have proven successful at, have been defined throughout history and notably by Abraham Lincoln, whose recognition as a good leader has stood the test of time.

Notably, good leadership skills which Lincoln showed before and during his time in presidency, included discernment, disappointment, triumph and tragedy, loneliness and transitional change.  Discernment can be considered as upskilling,


Lincoln Did not Start as a Leader

What Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us About Leadership

Even though Lincoln did not have a formal education, he took it upon himself to become self- educated, borrowing law books from a friend and learning all the concepts independently. He sustained this determination to succeed until he did in fact succeed. This was accomplished by showing discipline in all things, including through continuing to educate himself and in controlling his emotions. When he started learning his chosen topic of law, he was open to learn and take in what he read. This skill is often different than simply reading because it involves applying what you learn rather than simply comprehending it.

It was through his consistent application of personal improvement that Lincoln reached his first career goal of a lawyer, and which led him into politics all the way to becoming President of the United States.


Leadership Traits Lincoln Held

The Harvard Business Review wrote on good leadership qualities and noted Lincoln’s ability to share responsibility for mistakes made by others as a key quality that any good leader will have. People, in turn, were loyal to Lincoln for his returned loyalty and in not singling one person out as having made a mistake that the team could jointly take responsibility for.

Lincoln was also shown to be a good leader by choosing the person that was right for the job without consideration as to whether they were, in fact, a rival or not. By surrounding himself with people that were his equals, he could be assured that the best team was created, for the common good. In this way, a good leader is magnanimous and willing to be on a team where others might be better at certain things than the leader is personally.

Knowing how to relax at the end of the day, to replenish your energy for the next day, is an ongoing trait that any good leader must have to lead in a consistent manner. A high level of emotional intelligence is needed to be a good leader, and this is very much dependent on being mentally ready to face each new challenge with the same consistent energy allows a good leader to acknowledge their mistakes and those of others, learn from them and put them in the past.

Taking time at the end of the day to reflect on the events which passed, the decisions which were made, and the impact of those decisions, is also an important trait that Lincoln showed. It has been noted that in Lincoln’s day, there was no TV (and obviously no internet!) that would have otherwise taken up his time. As such, he had a solid opportunity to reflect, which contemporary leaders will have to carve out for themselves by carving out a bit of time each night for reflection which is free of modern-day interferences.

A path that is marked by failures and disappointment is also a common trait among good leaders, and one which Lincoln held as well. Being a good leader is the result of years of experience over a wide combination of topics, which can inevitably fail or succeed. It is through learning what the next step should be to correct a failure, that a good leader gains the knowledge they need to succeed.

Finally, another important quality that Lincoln had which is shared by great leaders is the ability to take on transformational change. Knowing when to change a process or a position on a topic is arguably the most important trait that leaders have, because without it they would not know when to change to avoid failure. They would also not be willing to try new avenues if something did fail, and the repetitive nature of seeking success requires that a good leader is able to transform when needed.

Shay Dalton avatar
Lincoln Recruitment Owner & Founder