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Lincoln on Leadership, Book Review Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1430

Book Review

Introduction
The book ‘Lincoln on Leadership’ by Donald T. Phillips will appeal to anyone who has a real love of American history.  A relatively short book at just 150 pages but provides remarkable insight into Lincoln as both President and an influential leader.  The author Donald T. Phillips has a significant background in business leadership positions and has conducted sound research in understanding the leadership skills of the President.  The book is essentially comprised of four main parts: (1) People (2) Character (3) Endeavour and (4) Communication.  The author delves into the personal relationships of Lincoln and how he deals with a wide variety of people during his Presidency.  The book is appealing because it examines leadership qualities during one of the most troubled times of the nation’s history i.e. the Civil War. (Phillips, T. 1992)

Without the firm leadership skills of Lincoln we could have seen the further partitioning of the USA and this would have resulted in a fractured nation of mini republics. He also was adept in dealing with controversial subjects like that of slavery. Lincoln was described as a forthright, open and fair-minded individual and a true humanitarian.

Summary of the Book

The book focuses on the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was a highly capable and skilled Commander in Chief of the military.  He was a transformational leader with a clear vision that helped preserve the Union of the United States.  Lincoln had excellent decision making and decisive leadership skills and the ability to lead the nation through one of its most turbulent periods in history.  The split of the book helps to characterise Lincoln and look at the different components of his leadership styles.  This is supported by historical events and accounts from people that knew the President well.  The author spends considerable time and energy delving into the important attributes of Lincoln’s leadership skills.

Critique

Lincoln the transformational leader –  identified by the characteristics of a person with vision, a strong sense of purpose and very goal oriented.  He/she  believes that people will follow those who inspire them.  Hence goal attainment is by inspiring your subordinates motivating them by enthusiasm and energy.  Working for these types of leaders can be a great experience as they derive a great deal of passion about their work and genuinely want you to succeed.  Such leaders start with a clear identification of a vision..  Leaders of this type are quick to exploit the vision by sharing it with their team. Such leaders are often seen to be using mind mapping or brainstorming sessions with their subordinates.  The believe in inclusivity and the power of team dynamics They believe in structured approaches to Problem Solving and Decision Making and often follow a Kepner Tregoe Management style.    Transformational Leaders are always visible and will stand up and be counted.  They show by their attitudes and actions an example of how others should behave.

Lincoln exhibited transformational leadership qualities by:

  • Exhibiting a clear sense of vision and purpose in maintaining the Union;
  • The Gettysburg Address and outlining his sense of purpose and reformation. He demonstrated objectivity and clarity in his sense of purpose;
  • Lincoln delegated by giving authority to General Grant in deployment and disposition of military troops;
  • He allowed people to get on with their jobs without placing undue pressure or limiting the scope of their tasks;

Lincoln was very passionate about demonstrating his moral leadership qualities and he fired those people in his administration that failed to deliver on his moral code of ethics. Lincoln possessed many qualities that more modern Presidents have lost. Current times are very different in circumstances but we have lost some character strengths depicted by the style and leadership qualities of Lincoln. In particular Lincoln held the values of mercy, compassion, honesty and forgiveness as sincere attributes of his leadership.

His example of clemency is clearly illustrated in the book  when grants clemency to a soldier “ if Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help them running away with him”..  (p.59).   Phillip made a point of emphasising that Lincoln granted more pardons than any President before him, however these were extraordinary times and called for a man with extraordinary values of leadership.

In the last 10 years, Management Scientists have been trying to put forward the best styles of leadership for modern business management. The work to date indicates that there is not a single leadership style that fits all business management applications.  Dr. Paul Hersey is a Management Professor that has put forward one model on situational leadership.  In his book ‘The Situational Leader’ he focuses upon how a follower achieves a readiness state and illustrates this in four quadrants containing the elements of effective leadership.

The Model as developed by Blanchard and Hersey essentially holds that managers must vary their leadership style in accordance with the situation that presents itself.  We see this in Lincoln as a leader who was able to change and adapt to different situations that presented themselves.  In 1862 Lincoln stated that he would save the Union even if it meant that he could not free any slaves.  He later apologised to Grant stating that was wrong about his criticism of the General at Vicksburg.

Lincoln’s innovative leadership

Lincoln was extremely innovative and promoted innovative ideas and taking of calculated risks. He supported his Generals when faced with challenging decisions and acknowledged their courage and leadership attributes of being seen to follow through on the courage of their own convictions. Lincoln tried to look at the mistakes of his generals as learning points and getting them to understand errors so that they would not be repeated. He built success upon the foundation of failures. Lincoln was very adept at trying out new ideas and concepts during the war including the new iron clad ships, new types of ammunitions, flame throwers and new forms of artillery.

Lincoln was a firm believer in innovation and in particular he looked for numerous new ways in which the North could gain advantages over the South in the Civil War. He became interested in the advantage of aerial warfare and hot air balloons.  He saw these as useful for reconnaissance purposes. He looked at pontoon bridges and ways for building quick temporary bridges in order to get across the Potomac river. Lincoln believed that to be an effective leader you must also be an innovative one.

Lincoln was also a very good orator and had excellent communication skills.  He was also an inspired visionary leader.  These are not charismatic charmers of people but instead are determined inspirational leaders. They take control and lead by example building a culture of discipline and focused on the success of the Company.  They do not create a coercive or tyrannical regime but a meritorious organization built upon performance and recognition.  These people are self-determined and willing to go to extraordinary measures in order to fulfil their objectives.

One might also argue that Lincoln had charismatic leadership qualities.  These are leaders that draw you in by the strength of their personality and style as opposed to a definitive leadership style. Gandhi being an example of a charismatic leader.

Conclusion

In the final analysis when reading the book it is possible to arrive at the conclusion whereby the most effective leaders are those inspired by a true sense of vision and purpose.  Lincoln was a very moral person and had a profound sense of belief in what he was doing and the direction that he was going in. This made his personality very committed and determined to be successful in his ventures.

He inspired other men like Generals Sherman and Grant who admired Lincoln’s strong sense of conviction and decisive leadership qualities.  Another aspect is that of trust and being a person of your word. Without trust very few will believe in you or follow you.

The book is very entertaining whilst offering some clear cut advice on leadership qualities and traits which we might adopt in a modern setting.  Some of the narratives appear to be on occasion somewhat comical but they do provide a good insight into the personal life and characteristics of Lincoln.  The book will appeal to anyone that wishes to gain a better understanding of historical leadership during the time of Lincoln and the Civil War.

The author concludes the book by including the provision of a suitable epilogue that concludes the author’s thoughts and provides a clear sense of closure where the author justifies the leadership qualities of President Lincoln and the justification that supports his theory of Lincoln being one of America’s truly great leaders.

References

T.Phillips, D. (1992). Loncoln on Leadership. Illinois: Hachette Book Group.

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