Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is Lincoln a Level 5 Leader?

“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.” Lincoln

Is Lincoln a Level 5 leader? Before we know what is ‘Level 5 leader’ the concept coined by Jim Collins in his celebrated book titled ‘Good to Great’, it is essential to look at the values and principles that become the bedrock for ‘Level 5 leader’.

Lincoln’s Values and Principles:

Lincoln believed in both values and principles. Values are formed and firmed at childhood itself. Integrity is the foundation for all values. When the basic foundation is strong, people will have strong values. Lincoln’s humble origins made him to have strong values. It is the values that powered him. Besides, it is the principles like fairness and honesty that kept him to hold firmly on the ground even after facing several failures and debacles in his life. To put it in the words of Stephen R. Covey, “Values drive behavior and it is the principles that drive the consequences of behavior.”

Lincoln’s Speech Preparation:

Lincoln had the uncanny ability to add sauce to flavor the meal. He knew the elements and the ingredients to be added to make his speech appealing to audience. He had gift of the gab, good sense of humor, knew how to add emotions (when we recall his speech about dead soldiers) as it was reflected in Gettysburg speech. Besides he was a great storyteller with terrific presence of mind. His ability to add sauce to flavor the meal helped him to become a successful speaker and orator.

Lincoln always stressed on thorough preparation. He prepared Gettysburg speech while in journey. He prepared the speech by himself. He believed in saving the time of others as well. It is basically because the amount of time the listeners spend has to be respected and calculated. For instance, if he spent 24 hours of preparation for one hour speech for delivering to an audience of 1000 members for a period of one hour then the total time of the 1000 members comes out to be 1000 hours. If Lincoln spent 24 hours for preparation, he was saving the time of listeners by his effective preparation. His preparation for speeches saved the time for his listeners besides having clarity of communication and conveying wonderful ideas and views with emotions.

Lincoln – A Level 5 Leader:

Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all. ~William Temple

Jim Collins says that the level 5 leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. He goes on to add that Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

Collins gave a formula for Level 5 Leaders as follows: Humility + Will = Level 5 Leader. Lincoln’s will was tested number of times during his lifetime from his failures. He demonstrated tremendous will to move forward. Besides, he proved his humility when one of the richest persons ridiculed Lincoln’s father as a cobbler. Lincoln did not get agitated but remained cool, calm and composed. He displayed his humility by being proud of his father who was a cobbler. He added that his father was a very good cobbler and did excellent job in his profession. This humble response from Lincoln stunned and stumbled the aristocratic member of the senate.

The qualities required for level 5 leaders are possessing humility, being highly ambitious, and achieving exceptional and remarkable accomplishments. Lincoln was truly a level 5 leader as he never bothered who gets credit for his actions. He was a passionate leader and had the ability to convert good people to great people through his gift of the gab.

People initially judged Lincoln wrongly as he was not good looking, very shy and modest. People doubted his competency and declared that he was unfit for Presidency. But he proved his critics wrong during his presidential tenure.

He was modest at core and never believed in boosting or boasting of himself. He was shy during his initial life and was fearless at core. During the Civil war he donned like a military leader. He worked with Generals and involved in war despite several threats to his life. He did not mind risking life and went ahead. He demonstrated and displayed unwavering resolve to abolish slavery from the land of America.

The seed of Level 5 Leadership was not there within Lincoln. It was cultivated and inculcated over a period of time. His life itself was replete with more lows and a very few highs. It was only after entering forties in his life, things gradually looked up better for Lincoln and until then he had several successive setbacks and failures. Perhaps all these things have made him modest, humble and simple. This is yet another reason for classifying Lincoln as a Level 5 Leader. He beautifully blended both his personal humility with professional will.

Lincoln – A transformational leader:

“Transformational leadership is a leadership style where one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.” (Source: Wikipedia). The concept is the brainchild of James MacGregor Burns who also focused on transactional leadership.

According to Burns, “Motivation, creativity and conflict are the three critical elements of transformational leadership”. Lincoln had tremendous motivation; unconventional thinking and the ability to manage conflicts effectively made him as a transformational leader. His ability to set the trend to abolish slavery was a proof of his transformational leadership. He stressed both on ends and means with a tilt to the means. He overcame several challenges during this transformational process culminating with his assassination by Booth.

According to Burns, there are four types of transformational leaders – intellectuals, reformers, revolutionaries and heroes (charismatic). Abraham Lincoln falls into the category of heroes (charismatic). It was during the Civil War, he demonstrated his courage, edge and ability to risk his life to defeat the South thus proving as a charismatic leader. He was more like a hero during the war where he briskly worked with Generals and monitored their progress and took several strategic decisions.

The qualities that are expected from transformational leaders are – visioning, inspiring, motivating, coaching, and team building. According Erik Rees, 2004, there are seven principles of transformational leadership – Principle of motivation, simplification, facilitation, innovation, mobilization, preparation and determination. Lincoln was equipped with all these seven principles to claim as a transformational leader.

Lincoln – A Primal Leader:

“When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was a primal leader. Fundamentally, primal leaders are effective empathizers. They step into the shoes of others and look at the problem for solutions. They are emotionally more intelligent than any other breed of leaders. They are good listeners. Lincoln was a good listener. During his conversations he listened around 77 percent and after understanding, paraphrasing and analyzing the contents of the other person he spoke the rest of 33 percent to complete the conversation. That is the reason why he was successful in speaking whether Gettysburg or any of the other famous speeches.


“And in the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln is not only a level 5 leader but also a transformational, primal, charismatic and motivational leader who keeps inspiring all of us beyond geographical boundaries and nationalities. He achieved amazing excellence in every area by his dogged determination and perseverance. Many of the American presidents followed the strategies of Lincoln whenever they faced with complicated situations. It is a clear indication of acceptance that Lincoln’s approaches were accepted and adopted either directly or indirectly by other American presidents.

Lincoln left a legacy behind. He mesmerized his audience although he was not handsome and not highly intelligent. He was an honest man and role model for children. He endeavored to end slavery and fought for keeping the country united. Lincoln was responsible for abolition of slavery. He was one of American heroes who rose from the rest under challenging circumstances and rarely brooded over fate. He was the man who proved to the world that a leader can be respected in any part of the world without any affinity towards geographical or national boundaries.

The world needs a leader like Abraham Lincoln to tackle the present problems and crises. The erstwhile Abraham Lincoln was born to abolish slavery and to unite America. Now we want another Honest Abe in 21st Century who would unite the world for bringing peace and prosperity to mankind.

The End

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