Leaders are often drawn in different directions: cost savings versus innovation; excellence versus equity; universal health-care versus a balanced budget. One of the great challenges for understanding Abraham Lincoln is what appears to many a central inconsistency. What was his main priority? Was he a unifier or emancipator?
How did Lincoln make judgments and maneuver through this apparent inconsistency. Lincoln, like all leaders, had a series of embedded complexities. On one hand he had a belief in equality and civil rights on the other hand there’s a sense that he had a conservative tendency that appreciated the importance of state’s rights.
Lincoln’s 1860 Copper Union address gives us insight into the complexities Lincoln brought to the issue of slavery. Within the context of the mantle of leadership, he had to, sooner or later, resolve what may or may not have been a contradiction. In the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, he was “big enough to be inconsistent. ” In terms of leadership, Lincoln had to chose a direction.
The dilemma Lincoln faced was obviously overwhelming but in many ways all leaders face a micro-parallel of such a situation. I encourage leaders to read George M. Fredrickson’s short gem on Lincoln entitled, “Big Enough to be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race.” Maybe, you’ll pick up a hint or two at what it takes to maneuver through and resolve inconsistencies.