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Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. (Off the Shelf).

by Donald T. Phillips

Warner Books - ISBN 0-446-39459-9 (Paperback)

Donald T. Phillips' book, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, is an expertly detailed record of what he believes were President Abraham Lincoln's leadership qualities and how today's manager can apply those qualities to people and problems.

Phillips relates vividly how he believes Lincoln understood the precepts of leadership, while addressing sound management principles in a well-organized, easy-to-follow comparison of Lincoln's precepts with current leadership skills.

The author writes that most of today's leadership principles are usually expressed abstractly when, in truth, there is a great need for simple, concrete illustrations. Phillips believes that, by studying Lincoln, a manager can get tangible examples from this widely recognized leader. His hope, in writing this book, is that "present and future leaders will be enlightened by the remarkable leadership genius of Lincoln and then will use the knowledge to improve their own skills."

Phillips also writes that today's leaders should be interested in Lincoln's leadership style because, by modern standards, "Lincoln's accomplishments would be regarded as no less than a miracle." Faced with the insurmountable problem of holding an entire nation together while organizing a new, more efficient government, Lincoln seized upon the circumstances at hand and exercised the full power of this office to create new limits of authority and leadership for the presidency. The book, organized into four parts, gives insight into dealing with people, building character, endeavoring to accomplish goals, encouraging innovation, and mastering communication. Each chapter relates problems faced by Lincoln at the rime and how he effectively handled and solved them. Quotations taken from letters and speeches written and given by Lincoln enforce the principle presented in each chapter. Each chapter concludes with a list of what the author has titled "Lincoln Principles," which summarize the chapter's main points and encourages the reader to put into practice what he or she just read.

Maintaining a Personal Touch

Part I, titled "People," describes Lincoln's hands-on personal approach. He often left the White House to visit the troops and others, and he tried to be accessible to the people as often as possible. Unlike the stony images of photographs, Lincoln reportedly could be affable and good tempered. He understood human nature, was compassionate and caring, and delegated responsibility and authority to subordinates. Recognizing that modern managers may complain that they don't have enough time to spend with their subordinates as did Lincoln, Phillips encourages the reader to remember that Lincoln was trying to win a war and unite the nation. He chides modern leaders by remarking, "But then again, they're not trying to win a war. Or are they?"

Exhibiting an Exemplary Character

The traits of honesty and integrity, never acting out of vengeance or spite, having the courage to handle unjust criticism, and being the master of paradox are addressed in Part II of the book, titled "Character." These chapters describe Lincoln's ability to be fair, trustworthy, sincere, straightforward, of sound moral principles, and honest. The author states, "Trust, honesty, and integrity are exceedingly important qualities because they so strongly affect followers." Phillips relates that genuine caring inspires trust among subordinates and fosters innovative thinking and keeps followers from being terrified by allowing them to be themselves. He notes that "contemporary leaders should 'pardon' mistakes as opposed to chewing out subordinates" and encourages readers to emulate Lincoln in handling unjust criticism (by ignoring most of the attacks if they are petty but fighting back if they are important enough to make a difference). Phillips also believes that mastering paradox is keeping one's darker side u nder control, being consistent, making no explanations to your enemies, taking risks, and exhibiting good common sense.

Taking Charge by Letting Go

In Part III, titled "Endeavor," Phillips describes Lincoln's leadership qualities of exercising a strong hand by being decisive, leading by being led, setting goals and being result-oriented, finding your own "Grant," and encouraging innovation from subordinates. The author suggests that readers, when making decisions, must understand the facts, consider the various solutions and their consequences, make sure that decisions are consistent with objectives, and effectively communicate those decisions. He states, "As a leader, you should always let your subordinates know that the honor will be all theirs if they succeed, and the blame will be yours if they fail." He encourages the contemporary manager to adopt Lincoln's principles of choosing chief subordinates who crave responsibility and take risks (that is, "finding your Grant"), and inculcating the attitude that "there's more than one way to skin a cat," rather than being consumed by methodology.

Communicating Simply and Directly

Mastering the art of public speaking, influencing people through conversation, storytelling, and preaching a vision and continually reaffirming it are the principles addressed in Part IV ("Communication") of the book. Here, Phillip's list of Lincoln Principles encourages readers to be "your organization's best stump-speaker, [and to] prepare yourself thoroughly for public speaking engagements, remember that there will be times when you should simply not speak, speak in simple and familiar terms, without any pretension of superiority, and when effecting renewal, call upon the past, relate it to the present, and then use them both to provide a link to the future."

Fitting Lessons from the Past to Today's World

During the reading of this book, one question came to mind in regard to Lincoln's leadership style. Did Lincoln really possess all of the leadership qualities purported, or has the author taken strategies and lessons learned in modern-day seminars on leadership and applied them to Lincoln's actions and words? I would have to say that it is a little of both. During the most difficult time in our nation's history, Lincoln accomplished the task of preserving the nation as one United States. He indeed had to have been an effective leader who possessed many of the qualities described by the author. In that regard, Phillips has taken lessons from the past and shown today's managers how to apply them to the present.

I heartily recommend this book for reading by leaders as well as those who want to learn how to lead. The lessons are fascinating and inspiring, and readers certainly will benefit from the many insights and recommendations.

Reviewed by Shirley A. Stephens

Shirley A. Stephens serves as the assistant chief of staff, comptroller for the Marine Corps Reserve Support Command (MCRSC), Kansas City, Missouri. She is responsible for the financial management support for the administration and training of over 60,000 Reserve Marines globally. She has been a civil service employee for 19 years, all with the Marine Corps, and a member of the Kansas City Chapter for 3 years.
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Author:Stephens, Shirley A.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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