Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do We Need Another Honest Abe?

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” - Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is one American leader who is the most revered and remembered across the world for his exemplary leadership qualities. He was unique in many ways. He had no aristocratic origins. He rose from nowhere to number one status only by the dint of his dogged determination and iron will. He was almost self-educated. He borrowed books from neighbors and educated. No amount of failure deterred him from pushing ahead. It is the Lincoln who flashes in the minds of entire mankind when we talk of motivation. In brief, Lincoln is synonymous with motivation.

He lived during the most turbulent times of American history where there was rift between North and South and the existence of America as one nation was at stake. No other leader would have handled the challenges and changes the way Lincoln handled. Another thorny issue prevailing then was abolition of slavery. He was upright and forthright in his convictions where he never bowed down from his principles and values in abolition of slavery from the land of America.

Lincoln dispelled the myth that American Presidency will be crowned only to the people from aristocratic background. He dispelled the myth that only the glamorous leaders could hold the highest office in America. He was not handsome and, of course, not ugly as well. He wiped out the notion that only intelligent people could become the leaders as he was an average person right from his childhood. He demystified the rule ‘it was not who versus who but what versus what’. He believed in his convictions that it was not ‘who was right and who was wrong’. On the contrary, he firmly believed that it was always ‘what was right and what was wrong’. He stressed that it was not ‘might’ but ‘right’ that ultimately matters. To put it in the words of Lincoln, “Let’s have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” The triumph of right over might was the hallmark of Abraham Lincoln.

In ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’, William James describes two basic personality types, “once-born” and “twice born”. Lincoln was a “twice born” where he had to face several challenges and struggles continuously in his life before reaching the top slot in America. He donned several hats like a lawyer, writer, wrestler and politician. Besides, he donned the hat of businessman for a brief period. He was robust physically being a wrestler and, of course, was patient under reproaches. He gave series of lectures to fund for his son’s education. It was at this time his talent was spotted and subsequently resulted into nomination as the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate.

Lincoln’s MBTI:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a psychometric questionnaire where there are 16 possible types of combinations of people in the world. Abraham Lincoln falls in the category of ENFJ, where E stands for Extraversion, N for iNtuition, F for Feeling and J for Judging.

Lincoln’s Leadership:

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” - Rosalynn Carter

An effective leadership depends on three pillars such as establishing credibility, building capacity and mobilizing ability for accomplishment. Effective leaders have the ability to influence and capability to succeed.

A leader should have blend of both character and competence where the former needs the intention to do right thing and the latter needs knowing how to do the right thing. Leaders do not think sub optimally but think optimally. Leaders like Lincoln are mission-centered ones; long term focused and oriented who leave a legacy behind.

Lincoln learnt leadership in trenches. He knew pretty well that nobody can become a “crack shot” unless they lose some ammunition. In his life, he suffered and struggled. His successive failures can be compared with losing some ammunition resulting him in becoming a “crack shot”.

Lincoln is a team oriented leader where he focused equally high on task and relationship with people which is the ideal leadership style. We can also say that Lincoln was a transformational leader as he wanted to transform the society by abolishing slavery.

Lincoln was a strategic leader where he aligned the ways and means successfully for reaching his ends. During Civil War he demonstrated his strategic leadership by working closely with military generals and fighting to the finish.

It is rightly said that the position does not make the leader but the leader makes the position. The position of Presidency did not make Lincoln as a leader but the leadership style of Lincoln brought respect to the Presidency of America. It is because of this reason many successive American Presidents go back to the library and refer about Lincoln whenever they faced with several challenges. That is the reason why Lincoln is remembered as one of the best Presidents of America.

Lincoln was an action-oriented, process-oriented and people-oriented leader and as he always stressed on what? How? And Who? respectively. He was a passionate leader. Besides, he was a high-performance leader.

Lincoln’s most famous speech was Gettysburg delivered on 19 Nov 1863. The few lines of Gettysburg speech are: "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

He always spoke truth without any fear or favor. He always spoke strongly about his convictions as it is evidenced from his quote, "The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just." When leaders practice what they preach, truth telling gets integrated with their culture. Whether it was the preservation of South with North or abolition of slavery, Lincoln stood firmly by his principles.

Lincoln – A Level 5 Leader:

Jim Collins in his book titled, ‘Good to Great’ coined the concept of Level 5 leader who was a blend of both personal humility and professional will. These leaders are driven by incredible ambition to achieve big. They are highly passionate about their work and do not mind who gets credit for their work. They just love doing what they do. Probably Lincoln became a man of humility because of the trials and tribulations he underwent during the course of several failures. He learnt lessons when he failed differently. All these things have resulted into becoming a paradoxical blend of personal humility with professional will. Lincoln had the uncanny ability to covert ordinary people as extra people by his gift of the gab.

Transparent leader:

Herb Baum coined the concept of transparent leader. In his words: “A transparent leader is someone who does the right thing regardless of the consequences ... is honest and open with his/her various constituencies and communicates regularly to prevent the rumor mill from taking over.” Herb Baum holds the following as the three pillars of transparency: integrity, corporate governance and communication. Although there was nothing like corporate governance in the profile of Lincoln, there was political governance, integrity and communication which become the pillars for Abraham Lincoln. He played the game fairly rather thinking about losing and winning.


“Successful people are able to overcome adversity, often experiencing financial difficulties – even bankruptcy – before hitting their stride” - John Maxwell.

Being in the comfort zone was not Lincoln’s style of leadership. For Lincoln, comfort zone was totally a discomfort. He kept on shifting from comfort zone to effective zone. Whenever he found that effective zone turned out to be a comfort zone, he quickly changed to next higher orbit.

Currently the world is undergoing a crucial stage where we have several challenges such as global terrorism, looming recession and environmental issues to name a few. These issues affect the global peace, prosperity and stability adversely. Therefore, we need rebirth of Lincoln with contemporary attitude and aptitude to lead from the front.

We need another Honest Abe in this challenging world to unify this world under one platform. We need a strong leader who can bridge the gap between nationalities, races, languages, cultures, ethnicities by looking at the similarities rather than differences. Erstwhile Lincoln fought for abolition of slavery and for preserving the unity and integrity of North and South and became a martyr. The contemporary Honest Abe must bring the entire world under one platform for bringing prosperity and peace to the mankind.

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” - Abraham Lincoln

The End

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