Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lincoln On Leadership: Circulate Amongst the Troops

I'm in the process of reading a pretty good book for executives and historians alike. It discusses executive strategies in leadership using Abraham Lincoln's approach. You'll learn a lot about the person underneath the Stovepipe hat and even more about the person reading the book (Yes, you!)

The first chapter's advice is to " Get out of the Office and Circulate among the Troops".

Lincoln surely did this. Often times Lincoln would be found with the troops, riding his horse through the ranks, amidst a background of cheers and applause. Lincoln found that casual contacts with "subordinates" was as important as formal meetings. He believed that people would feel less intimidated and be more open when in a relaxing atmosphere, as opposed to closed up in a meeting room.

Lincoln was known for motivating the troops by telling them his long term vision of the United States. From this, the troops would see the big picture and understand their role in that picture. Giving someone a sense of importance is a motivating factor which is very effective.

The picture to the right shows Lincoln who came to Antietam after the Battle of Bull Run to fire General McClellan. The picture shows Lincoln amongst the troops after the battle. Surely, Lincoln could have fired McLellan via telegram. But Lincoln is a stand up guy and probably used this as a way not to show panic amongst the troops.
The picture to the left is Lincoln talking to McClellan.

To this note, it is well known that Lincoln changed Civil War generals several times before sticking with U.S. Grant. Some say Lincoln was too involved in the decisions of the war, or that he was micromanaging. The fact remains, he did what needed to be done to keep the Union together. This could be an entirely new entry, so I'll leave it at that.

Honest Abe had an open door policy and would rarely turn anyone away. According to some observers he would spend 3/4 of his time out of the office taking what Lincoln referred to as "public opinion baths". Literally bathing himself in the thoughts of the common man. Lincoln himself said, "I have little time to read the papers and gather public opinion that way... as a whole [it] is renovating and invigorating."

Obviously, in this day and age, it is a lot harder for a president to 'circulate' amongst the common man without causing chaos. Lincoln would often refuse protection and was comfortable with his ability to relate to everyone. His amiability was one of his best qualities. A quality which allowed him to gain trust from the common man. He was self-deprecating in social settings, in such a way where his stories, would keep people entertained, but at his own expense. This, might be a result of his melancholy and a way to hide his true feelings of depression. Regardless, he was very like-able in these situations.

During the War, Lincoln could usually be found sitting next to the telegraph machine waiting for the latest battle update. This, instead of waiting across the street in his office for a messenger to deliver the news. This strategy, of looking over the decoder's shoulder, allowed Lincoln to read the telegram quickly, and immediately write a response to be quickly relayed back to the appropriate party. It allowed him to make quick decisions, something that is vital in times of war.

Future leaders can learn from Lincoln's example of getting wide acceptance of a philosophy by demonstrating it in your everyday actions. By entering your subordinate's environment, you establish a frequent human contact which develops a sense of commitment and community. With this comes trust and access to vital information that might otherwise be spread behind your back.

There is no question that Lincoln's style was effective.
PS - The book is: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. It is a quick read which gives you great insight into how Lincoln operated.

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Geoff Elliott said...

Indeed, once Lincoln was at the front (where, I can't remember for sure) and came under fire from the Rebels. The officer with him shouted "Get down, you fool!" and dragged Lincoln back behind the fortification. Afterwards, the officer feared the repercussions from his commander or from Lincoln, but Lincoln smiled and calmly said that the soldier was exactly right to call Lincoln a fool.

Discount Viagra said...

Sounds nice, I wonder why but some decision that some president in the past made it just doesn't make any sense, I wonder why but I guess that some people manipulate them in some way.

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