"In my experience as a senior executive in the competitive and fast-paced sporting goods industry, I have seen my share of good leaders.

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The Long Look Back: Lessons From Abraham Lincoln

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As part of being a lifelong learner, I have discovered that leadership is not only about the attaining results, but also how we obtain them. The leaders who achieve great results through honorable means are those we gravitate towards most. Regardless of what time, industry or aim, it is the examples of these impressive figures which we respect the most. One such leader whose honorable journey underscores his incredible accomplishments is Abraham Lincoln.

Humble Beginnings to Huge Challenges

Lincoln’s path to leadership was a true rags-to-riches story highlighted by hard work at every juncture of his life. Rarely do leadership abilities manifest in people who aren’t willing to put in the effort, and Lincoln was no exception to this rule. Not only a hard worker, Lincoln was also a self-starter, teaching himself law and practising successfully before making the leap to public office. Today’s executives should mimic Lincoln’s willingness to devote his energy entirely to every task he took on. Leaders today know the value of hard work, but cutting corners – especially on menial tasks – is a bad habit we can all afford to drop. Leaders can learn from Lincoln that success comes to those committed to doing quality work.

Popular Opinion And The Opinions Of Others

In his time, Lincoln was by no means universally beloved. However, because of his actions and demeanor, he is remembered today as a man who lead by conviction and treated all with dignity: a lesson that holds firm for today’s executives. Be it in a Peer Group meeting room, a boardroom, or a personal office, the way one treats their equals and subordinates directly relates to the results one achieves. Lincoln overcame scathing critics in his day using this even-tempered disposition and 21st century leaders can do the same.

Surrounded By Diversity

It was that same disposition that guided Lincoln to listen to the advice of others, even those who didn’t share his viewpoints. He famously composed his cabinet of men who didn’t always see eye-to-eye. However, Lincoln astutely navigated this situation – according to one historian:

“His political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture.”[i]

Because of this ability, Lincoln created a well-rounded and balanced team that was diverse, but also able to work as a cohesive unit under his leadership. Today’s executives need to do the same when building their teams: assemble a group of diverse individuals, listen to and consider the importance of differing perspectives and unite the group to a common cause.

The means to an end are just as important as the end itself. Leaders who accomplish great things without sacrificing their integrity are the ones whom history remembers. But even if an executive’s aims are humbler than leading a nation, he or she can still benefit from the powerful lessons of Lincoln’s leadership. If a leader is willing to work hard, treat others with respect and keep an open mind when considering others’ opinions, he or she will be that much closer to success – and following in the footsteps of an American hero.

[i] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 701.

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Julie Nimmons

Julie Nimmons

Julie uses her 30 years’ experience to help CEOs, executives and business owners in her Vistage Group find success in their businesses and personal lives. With positive leadership, a firm sense of prioritization and the commitment to lifelong learning, Julie’s creates a constructive workspace for Group members where honesty, innovation and cooperation can flourish.