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4 Abraham Lincoln Quotes Every Leader Should Know

Abraham Lincoln could have authored self-help books. He not only knew how to organize and lead, but he knew how to put his ideas into simple, clear, and concise language.

Take his remark, “Things may come to those who wait. But only the things left by those who hustle.”

It’s clever, it’s short, and it shows that idle folks have everything to lose.

The four quotes I’ve selected get at the heart of Lincoln’s wisdom and also his ability to say a lot without saying much. We can learn from Lincoln’s ideas and from his economy with words.

4 Lincoln Quotes Every Leader Should Know

1. I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back.

2. Whatever you are, be a good one.

3. I fear explanations explanatory of things explained.

4. Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?

Leadership On the Edge

Lincoln on Leadership: The Value of Storytelling

Communication provides the power to motivate followers. It is not what you say, but how you say it that counts. Just look at Abraham Lincoln. He mastered the art of story telling to help him lead more effectively according to Steve Densley, president of Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Densley, “Lincoln could also apply perfect rhyme, cadence and alliteration to his speeches and writings. He could conceive and employ such beautiful symbolism as ‘the fiery trail through which we pass,’ ‘the mystic chords of memory,’ and ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Every leader must realize that the power to motivate followers resides almost solely in the ability to communicate effectively. In most business organizations, private conversation is much more important than public speaking, and loyalty is often won through such personal contact.”

BLG Leadership Insights Features

Guide To Crisis Leadership

In a moment of crisis, when things seem to be most falling apart, be it after a Katrina-like event, market collapse, or a 9-11 terror, the public turns to its leaders for a sense of reassurance.  These are times when leaders have to be smart about how they present themselves.  They have to make a calculated decision about not simply about what they’re going to do, but how they will present themselves.

This decision leaders make about presentation of self is absolutely critical, and if mishandled can have disastrous effects.  Leadership at this time is a question of language as much as it is of action.  In the long run, what leaders accomplish is the litmus test, but in the immediate short run, what leaders say is of psychological and political importance.

Scholars of leadership talk about two types of leadership styles: transformational and transactional.  Transformational leadership is based on presentation of a broad vision and new perspectives.  It is a style that is embodied by a paradigmatic shift.  The language of transformational leadership strives to inspire confidence, by using history, culture, stories, and all those things that are able to mobilize a collective.  Transformational leaders instill a sense of collective and a sense of commitment.

Transactional leaders tend to specify how they will move from point A to point B.  This is not a language of aspiration, but a language of execution.  Transactional leaders specify the nuts and bolts of what needs to be done.  They are less obsessed with commitment and concerned with resources and coordination.

In a time of crisis, leaders need to do both.  They need to be transformational to instill a sense of commitment that we’re in this together, and transactional to make sure that efforts are sustained and visions are achieved.

Great political leaders, like Lincoln and Roosevelt, understood that in times of uncertainty the importance of using both leadership styles to reassure the public that even if the sky was falling, that we could get it under control.  If our present political leaders understand this as well, then there is the hope that they’ll be able to calm the panic and inspire a quiet, confident sense of direction.

Picture Credit: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

BLG Leadership Insights

Pulled in Two Directions: Big Enough to be Inconsistant

big-enoughLeaders 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.


Vision is Not Enough: Proactive Leaders & the Timing of Good Ideas [Podcast]

martinLutherKingGandhi3A good idea is not good enough. Good ideas don’t have wings and they don’t take off without a support base.

In the following podcast I discuss how great leaders rely on the skills of execution rather than the strength of an idea or vision.

I take a look at the leadership style of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln and ask what was key to their successful leadership.