Lincoln on Leadership

4 minute read


As always, I don’t agree with or use everything I read, but I will still try and summarize it here. If you are new here, read why I put my semi-personal book notes online.

Regardless of one’s political beliefs, although I’m not sure who is on the other side of Lincoln, there are strategies Lincoln consciously and subconsciously employed that allowed him to be an effective and decisive leader in one of the toughest most tumultuous times in American history. I’ll try to summarize the points below, some of which I may not agree with currently. If I think the point of the author is important, I’ll try to include it whether or not I agree with it in case it helps me or someone else in the future.

This book doesn’t include large swaths of horizontal data but rather focuses on many anecdotes from Lincoln’s life. One of the most impressive things about this book is another famous author on leadership was quoted saying

fascinating, instructive, and inspiring

Stephen R. Covey


Lincoln is generally considered one of the greatest presidents in history. He believed that whatever you do in life, you should do it with good intentions. He believed that was the only way to truly lead other people to greatness. Everyone was a person who deserved respect and a chance to express themselves. Honesty and integrity are absolutes. The ability to handle unjust criticism is a necessity.

Interact with the Entire Team

Lincoln would personally interact with the soldiers of the regiments that passed through Washington D.C. despite being so busy. Modern leadership consultants have a name for this strategy, MBWA. Leadership advocates think management by wandering around, although burdensome for the leader, has big advantages in the long run. I would say this is similar to how Leaders Eat Last recommends empathy to understand your team.

Persuade not Force

Lincoln felt people don’t need punishment to follow a leader. He had a strategy for subtle persuasion by combining pep talks with orders disguised as suggestions. I wish the author had some specific examples of this since it was a little difficult for me to understand but a couple of other books I’ve read seem to have more info. Reading his speech in Peoria, Illinois in 1854 may give some insight into this.

I did notice that Lincoln would base a lot of his speeches on a higher power to persuade people to act with integrity. This reminds me of Sapiens which also talks about how to persuade it’s extremely helpful to have a message that comes from a power higher than yourself. Although this usually means a supernatural power like a god, it doesn’t need to be. It can be a moral truth or a set of human values. In his speech in Peoria, he seems to use this same strategy.


Lincoln instituted the idea of political honeymooning so that he could create trial periods for potential candidates. Lincoln felt he wouldn’t be able to make a proper decision without understanding the dynamics of each individual over a trial period. A similar strategy can be used with new employees. Not just to give new employees a few months before you fire them for not performing, but also the understanding that it takes time to show the true nature of an employee. This could mean that employee you thought might be mediocre, when given the opportunity to honeymoon, would turn out to be a great individual. That’s what Lincoln learned when his neither first nor second choice ended up being his favorite.


Lincoln often organized demonstrations of new technology because he was so fascinated by innovation. He wanted those around him to have the same fascination because he felt it helped one be ahead of others. He didn’t let generals who were comfortable with the status quo occasionally overriding them when it came to the implementation of new technology. This seems to have made all the difference. Innovation is one of the pillars of leadership and startups, something many books reference. Lincoln is the only president to ever register a patent. That’s how much he valued innovation.


A secret to great leadership was great communication. I’ve experienced this personally. The leaders who were my mentors were almost always amazing communicators when it came to the art of public speaking. Although the author talks specifically of publish speaking, this seems a good general skill to have. The author felt that part of the reason Lincoln was such a great orator was he wrote, edited, and rewrote all of his speeches himself until he was truly satisfied with the result which often was spectacular.


The book does feel a little biased and almost as if it has cherry-picked Lincoln’s best qualities to the point where we may start to think it’s impossible to emulate him. But even implementing a few of these strategies at a time can be enough to make a big difference to the team you are leading.

Avishaan’s Goodreads

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives
Hello Startup. A Programmer's Guide to Building Products, Technologies, and Teams
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of Your Life
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

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