Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is Lincoln a Principle-Centered Leader?

"If you focus on principles, you empower everyone who understands those principles to act without constant monitoring, evaluating, correcting, or controlling." - Stephen R. Covey

Stephen R. Covey, in his celebrated book titled ‘Principle-Centered Leadership’ dwells at length leadership which is centered on principles. The book focuses on moral and ethical values. In his book, Covey observes four levels of natural laws: personal, interpersonal, managerial and organizational are the pillars of principle-centered leadership paradigm.

According to him, a principle – centered leader should have few characteristics such as trustworthiness, continuous learning, service oriented, radiating positive energy, leading balanced lives, leading adventurous life and being synergistic. Let us look and explore whether Lincoln was a Principle-Centered Leader.


“If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.” - Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was financially poor but morally rich. He was not handsome externally but internally he had a great heart. He offered his services as a lawyer for free of cost to poor and deserving. He was honest to the core. He built trust through his honest dealings whether he was in business for a brief period or in lawyer profession. Research on Lincoln reveals several documents about his honesty and decency. In one instance, he walked a long distance to refund the excess cents collected by mistake from a customer. It is because of these reasons Lincoln was crowned as ‘Honest Abe’.

He dispelled the myth that ‘lawyers are liars’ who manipulate many things to get clients. On the other hand, he encouraged many of his clients to save money by settling the issues out of the court. He was always trustworthy whether in politics or in business or in lawyer profession. For him, principles and values were more important than anything else.

Lincoln’s Learning and Growing:

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was a life long learner. He learnt and grew. He was almost self-educated. He had zeal and enthusiasm right from childhood to learn. Lincoln would borrow books from neighbors during childhood. He read several biographies and books that inspired him to dream big. Throughout his life, he had been learning and growing passionately. As a youngster, he steeped himself in books such as biographies of George Washington, selections from Cicero, Demosthenes, Franklin, and dramatic passages from Hamlet, Falstaff, and Henry V . He was most influenced by the book titled “The Life of George Washington”.

Service Oriented:

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” - Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was born for the people. He was born for the cause of American unity and abolition of slavery. He was fundamentally a passionate and service oriented leader. He had the innate attitude and aptitude towards serving the people which was displayed in his legal professional service and political life. While doing business also he had the same attitude. Probably that could be the reason why he could not strike rich monetarily but could strike rich in touching the lives of the people through his emotional, inspirational and motivational speeches and services.

Radiating Positive Energy:

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

Covey observes that principle-centered leaders always speak of positive things and they radiate positive energy always. It is true in the case of Lincoln who never allowed pessimism and cynicism to creep in despite several setbacks ranging from love failure with Ann Rutledge, business failure and political failures. He demonstrated optimism throughout his life. He had the attitude of forgetting and forgiving his opponents.

Leading Balanced Life:

“There is no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves.” - Frank Herbert

Lincoln was neither an eccentric nor conventional. He knew how to lead a balanced life be it in personal, professional or social life. He never broke the conventions thus jeopardizing others’ interests. He respected the law of the land like a true citizen and implored for equality of all human beings by abolishing slavery. He rightly said, “Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

Strength in Synergy:

Lincoln was not a dictator and but a true democrat who believed in working with others. He saw strength in synergy which is a state in accordance with the Gestalt’s Theory – “Whole is better than sum of the parts.”

He was an excellent team builder where he accommodated his political rivals and ran the administration. The incumbent President of America Obama took a leaf out of Lincoln by building a team which does comprise of no ‘yes’ men or women. Lincoln churned diversity of opinions by keeping his political opponents in good humor. Lincoln learnt a lot from his political opponents and from their criticism. Through his story telling techniques, Lincoln used to win over his political rivals. By befriending and working with them, he gradually leveraged the synergy. He rightly asked, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” Besides, Lincoln was also a tactful and diplomatic in his dealing as it is evidenced from his quote, “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”

Abraham’s Adventurism:

"The only faith that wears well and holds its color in all weathers, is that which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant of experience." - Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War he served as the Commander – in- Chief and Chief- of -Staff for most of the time. He demonstrated exemplary courage in preventing the Southern States seceding from the United States. With his bold strategies, he ensured the defeat of South. This indicates his heroism, braveness and loyalty to his land. He escaped death several times through out his life such as surviving from drowning into water, survived when horse kicked him, and survived assassination threats during Civil War from Southerners. However, he became a martyr at the hands of John Wilkes Booth who was a racist and Southern sympathizer.

Lincoln’s Self-Motivation:

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” - Abraham Lincoln

The initial failures rushed people to conclude that Lincoln was down and out. But rarely did people predict that he was only down for some years not out for ever. He rose like Phoenix. He fought with fate to the finish. He bounced back from failures. The failures did not upset his will power. He lived to fight another day. No amount of failure stumbled but humbled him at core. He was the man who made the world sit up and take notice through his self-motivation.


Lincoln was a ‘Principle-Centered Leader’ as he possessed all characteristics. Lincoln was a multi-faceted personality. He was a wrestler, shopkeeper, postmaster, surveyor, lawyer, writer, orator and above all a great leader. Leaders like Lincoln live in the hearts of the people not just in the minds of the people. Most of the leaders live just in the minds for some time and fade away from the memories. But the inspiring and motivating leadership of Lincoln is not only memorable but also timeless and priceless.

Lincoln proved to the world that leaders do not have any geographical boundaries. They command respect cutting across the nationalities, geographical boundaries, ethnicities, races, languages and cultures. To conclude in his own words, “And in the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”

The End

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