5 Great Leadership Lessons From the Movie Lincoln

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Dec 3, 2012

If you haven’t seen the movie Lincoln yet, stop whatever you’re doing, go to the nearest theater and watch it right now.

So far, I’ve sat through all 2 hours and 29 minutes twice and wholeheartedly think it’s one of the very best leadership tutorials in the history of the universe.

Here are five key lessons I came away with. Please feel free chime in with a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add.

  1. Diversity works. The movie is based on a book called Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book’s central point is that instead of doing the normal political thing and assembling a cabinet of people just like himself, Abraham Lincoln went out of his way to include a diverse group of friends and foes. That diversity helped lead to better debates and better decisions — and may just have saved the country for future generations.
  2. Patience and perseverance pay. Lincoln had two primary strategic goals: (1) ending slavery; and, (2) ending the war. Over and over, he was tempted to take shortcuts that would have accomplished one goal but would have left the other in peril. He refused to compromise on either front, weathered the storm, and ultimately achieved what most thought was impossible.
  3. They didn’t call him Honest Abe for nothing. Eschewing the custom of the time, Lincoln refused to dole out cash in exchange for votes on the 13th Amendment. Instead, he paid personal visits to key figures from both parties — hitting ‘em in the hearts with personal pleas for justice rather than filling up their pockets with cold hard cash.
  4. Have a humble heart. Lincoln personified the Level Five Leader immortalized in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. He was humble to the core, listened to others and put the good of the country above his own personal interests.
  5. Keep it short. Lincoln kept his words few. The Gettysburg Address — perhaps the most famous speech of all time — was a mere 246 words and took two minutes to deliver. As Abe himself once said: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I think I’ll heed those words and shut up right now.

This was originally published on Manpower Group’s Employment Blawg.

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