Lincoln on Leadership

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Few can deny Abraham Lincoln was a great leader. Not only did he end the bloodiest conflict to ever touch American soil, but in the process, he also mobilized a dedicated following, convinced doubtful politicians of his leadership ability, enhanced the position of the president, revamped the United States War Department, found the right general to win the Civil War and set the foundations to re-stitch the torn fabric of America—all during one of the most turbulent cultural and political times in our nation’s history.

Yet, despite this great achievement—and despite daily reminders of his greatness (his image is on the penny and the five dollar bill, his name is associated with a line of automobiles, etc.)—few have ever stopped to analyze how Lincoln was such a great leader.

That’s what drove Donald T. Phillips to write his text Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. Set amid historical context, Phillips takes an in-depth look at the characteristics that made Lincoln such a successful leader.

Through providing tangible, real-life examples of Lincoln’s extraordinary leadership in a time of immense pressure, Phillips not only shows us how Lincoln pieced back together a broken nation, but in doing so, gives us relatable leadership principles we can apply in our own “tough times.”

 So…what makes a great leader, why was Abraham Lincoln one, and how can I become one?

Below are the following principles Lincoln followed that made him a great leader. Do you already use these in your leadership style? If not, how can you?


  • Get out of the office and circulate among the troops
  • Build strong alliances
  • Persuade rather than coerce


  • Honesty and integrity are the best policies
  • Never act out of vengeance or spite
  • Have the courage to handle unjust criticism
  • Be a master of paradox


  • Exercise a strong hand—be decisive
  • Lead by being led
  • Set goals and be results-oriented
  • Keep searching until you find your “Grant”


  • Master the art of public speaking
  • Influence people through conversation and storytelling
  • Preach a vision and continually reaffirm it