Lincoln Lesson #3 – Team

One of the best Lincoln books ever is Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin.  In this book, one of Lincoln’s greatest leadership lessons is explored in depth – Lincoln knew how to build and run a great team.

On May 18th, 1860, William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln all waited in their homes for the results of the Republican National Convention.  The underdog from Illinois, Lincoln, beat out all three other contenders on the third ballot.  The party was stunned and Lincoln’s rivals were fuming… right up until the moment Lincoln named them as his presidential cabinet.  He surrounded himself with the people he campaigned AGAINST!  (Imagine Bush naming John Kerry Secretary of Defense) This assured him of always getting solid feedback, other viewpoints, and consistent work. 

Lincoln also ran his team much differently than previous administrations.  Lincoln would start fights/debates amongst his cabinet members to test varying ideas.  He would ask advice of them in public, but mostly arrived to cabinet meetings to inform them of decisions made.  He allowed his team to implement actions as they saw best, but demanded absolute loyalty to him and the mission from them.

Lincoln also saw all people through the lens of his mission – to save the Union.  His feud with Major General McClellan (Commanding General of the Union 1861-1862) was very public… one time Lincoln was seated in McClellan’s parlor, awaiting his return.  McClellan came in, ignored the President (commander in chief!) sitting in his parlor, and went to bed.  When McClellan’s staff began to apologize to Lincoln, he said, "I’ll hold the man’s horse if he wins the war for me."

Lincoln knew to surround himself with good people, but he still acted in the scope of his own leadership and never by consensus.  All of his rivals who became part of his cabinet eventually sang his praises.

If you are a leader you will have people who are contrary to you and/or your ideas.  Moses did.  King David did.  Even Jesus did.  But can you build a team anyway?  Can you inspire loyalty amongst your followers?  Can you lead a great team to accomplish a world-changing mission? I don’t know about you, but I’m trying Mr. Lincoln… I’m trying.


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