11 Leadership Qualities of Abraham Lincoln

7 min read

Of all presidents in American history, perhaps none is more iconic, recognized, or renowned as the great Abraham Lincoln is. The orator, the great president, and leader, Abraham Lincoln was more than just a president. He led a country that was divided into and out of war for the causes of freedom.

Sadly, for those that don’t know, President Lincoln would die a premature death at the hands of an assailant and criminal, John Wilkes Booth. Yet, even after Lincoln was so horribly assassinated, his memory lives on, and we can learn a great deal about the leadership quality of Abraham Lincoln.

Below are 11 leadership traits of Abraham Lincoln that anyone can learn to implement in their leadership.

Bravery

During Lincoln’s presidency, the nation struggled to come to terms with slavery and the idea of freeing those that were never meant to be in bondage. Lincoln had the leadership quality of being brave and announcing that he would be freeing the slaves on January 1, 1983, in his Emancipation Proclamation speech.

Most Presidents, and most people for that matter, lack the ability to take action if the outcome might be negative. Lincoln ended up being assassinated due to his very efforts to free the slaves. However, he did it anyway, knowing that he would be hurt or even assassinated by his actions.

Yet, he persisted and showed the bravery that many strong leaders, such as Hannibal, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other leaders have. Showing this strength against fearlessness is what makes a leader extraordinary.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they’re feeling. Empathy allows you to understand someone on an incredibly deep level. For instance, a supervisor feeling empathy for his employees or a country’s leader feeling empathy for his people.

This empathy is what led Lincoln to make the decision to free the slaves and make America a truly free country. By having empathy, leaders are not only loved by their people, but they retain a dedicated team that is open to their cause. This ability to improve retention rates, reduce stress, and improve innovation is what makes empathy the number one best leadership skill, according to Forbes.

Oral communication

Having great communication skills is more than getting your point across.

The best leaders engage in oral and written communication to unite people, develop an understanding between individuals, and elevate them to leader status. Lincoln wasn’t just the president, but he worked in one of the greatest communication specialties you can be - as a lawyer.

This, combined with his amazing ability to deliver short yet powerful speeches that were clear in their intent, such as the Gettysburg Address, is why people remember him even years later as a leader.

Social skills

Abraham Lincoln never had a formal education, despite being a lawyer in his time.

Yet, even without a formal education, he ascended to the presidency through his exceptional social skills that allowed him to do what all great leaders do - network and gain the trust of people to further his career and endeavors.

Without social skills, you can kiss your dreams of being a powerful leader goodbye. Engaging with others in social settings is the core of what not just Presidents like Lincoln do, but also what leaders are trained to do in their careers.

Trust in his people

Like all Presidents, Lincoln was the Commander in Chief of the military, and as such, needed the most extraordinary military leadership skills. He had just that in his ability to be able to meet with military leaders and trust in their strategies to win the civil war.

During his time as President, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t afraid to let his military leaders, great generals such as Ulysses S. Grant, take the reigns and do what they thought was best.

This ability to stand back and trust in his people is what is known as avoiding hubris, or excessive pride and self-confidence, that can be the downfall of any leader.

Accessibility

Did you know Lincoln spent more time outside of his office meeting union soldiers, greeting military leaders, and networking than inside his office during the height of the civil war in 1861?

How many of your favorite bosses had a true open-door policy that allowed you to be accessible to them? Being a leader is more than having a minion of people under you. It’s also about being able to walk with them in the same battle you both share.

Whether that’s winning the Civil War, becoming a better business, or trying to keep your business from going under, you share what is at stake with your fellow employees. To be able to share more with them, it’s important to be accessible, just like Lincoln was.

Gentle Persuasion

No one likes to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, even if it is necessary.

Many sayings relate to this, such as “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Lincoln personally liked the phrase “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and this idea of gently persuading someone rather than ordering them, as a traditional leader would, is something he frequently used to be able to get his people to move in the direction he wanted.

In many letters, Lincoln said that he wasn’t giving “orders” or that he “hoped” people would take his advice into consideration. Sometimes, this is all you need to persuade your employees into listening - giving them a choice to say no (but being persuasive enough for them to say yes).

Fessing up to mistakes

We all make mistakes. There is a saying in Latin that says “Errare humanum est,” or, to err is human.

Lincoln was no different, and like all leaders, found himself making mistakes in everyday negotiations, war strategies, you name it. However, Lincoln had the great quality of being able to fess up to his mistakes in a direct manner.

In a letter he wrote to Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln stated, “I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.” It takes a big person to own up to mistakes, and being a leader, you will eventually make a mistake.

The key is to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them instead of denying you’ve made a mistake and putting the blame on others.

Encouraging innovation and being innovative

Right before Lincoln assumed the presidency, he was also busy inventing and being innovative in his own right.

Lincoln is the only president ever to have a patent, and he was in a patent for buoying vessels such as ships over shoals. But it doesn’t stop there. During the civil war, Lincoln oversaw a country that continued to be innovative and advanced in military technology, such as creating the Gatling gun, the Minie ball, the Henry rifle, the Parrott rifle, and much, much more.

It is a sign of a great leader to be innovative in and of themselves and encourage innovation rather than punish new ideas.

Stirred emotion

Lincoln was known as one of the best storytellers of his time.

When the president couldn’t be heard on the radio (that wouldn’t happen until Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office) or even seen on TV, Lincoln had to figure out a way to stir emotion in his people. He did so through storytelling, which research has shown is more memorable than any statistics or speeches are.

It’s not just about telling stories, however, that makes Lincoln a great leader. It’s the fact that he found the best way to stir emotion in his peers, and as a leader, you might find other ways to stir emotion even if it’s not with a story.

Do your employees enjoy a democratic gathering? A close bond? Or do they value distance? Every situation will be different, and as a leader, you should find the right method, just like Lincoln found storytelling to stir emotions.

Integrity

There is perhaps no more honest figure in American than “Honest Abe.”

Abraham Lincoln was known as an honest store clerk in his youth in New Salem, Illinois. Soon, he built a reputation of honesty that allowed him to reach the presidency and then continued to use his motto of “standing with whoever is right” to encourage people to fight for liberty during the Civil War.

Ultimately, his honesty and integrity are what let others trust in him, know where they stood with him, and in turn, it gave Lincoln the energy to focus on winning the war and being a great leader rather than being insincere.

Integrity for Lincoln, and all leaders, unite people and liberates you.

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