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Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies For Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips
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Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies For Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies For Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies For Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips

In his introduction to Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times (Hatchette Book Group, 1992), author Donald T. Phillips tells the story of how his book came to be. He’d been attending a weeklong leadership conference, and during his downtime, he was reading an Abraham Lincoln biography. Midway through the conference, he noticed that Lincoln’s methods of leadership were very similar to methods being taught by the week’s speakers. He consulted with some Lincoln experts, and learned that although Lincoln is one of the most written-about of the U.S. Presidents, no approach had been taken to describe his leadership philosophy based on his actions and writing. Phillips’s book, published in 1992 and now in its thirteenth printing, is the product of that initial research.

Phillips take a categorical approach, highlighting Lincoln’s thoughts on people, character, endeavor, and communication as they relate to working with people. Each category has its section, divided into three or four chapters each. In the section on character, for example, are chapters titled “Honesty and Integrity are the Best Policies,” “Never Act out of Vengeance or Spite,” “Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism,” and “Be a Master of Paradox.”

Each chapter provides historical, anecdotal support for the advice given by its title. Some of the content will be familiar to anyone who paid attention during high-school history classes, as with Lincoln’s three-year search for a military leader who could lead his army to victory, offered in the chapter “Keep Searching Until You Find Your Grant.” Some of the detail probably goes a little far for its purpose, as with the timeline chart illustrating Lincoln’s “Parade of Generals,” but the storytelling itself is pointed and well done, as when he explains that “Lincoln needed someone who could build, organize, and train an army, and then formulate and implement a military strategy to invade the South.” He explains how Lincoln looked for a chief subordinate who craved responsibility, took risks, and made things happen.

If you’ve seen the award-winning Lincoln biopic starring Daniel Day Lewis as the President, you remember a touching, resonant scene where Lincoln has a conversation with one of the soldiers in his army. Phillips says this was a critical piece of Lincoln’s leadership approach, getting out of the White House and among the troops. One graph shows the number of days per month he spent among his troops, in some months as many as twenty days. He then breaks the benefits of such leadership into its components, so the reader can see the practical and philosophical rationale for the time and energy this can require.

Perhaps the best thing about Lincoln on Leadership is that it is a very manageable, quick reading 180 pages, easily digested one chapter at a time, or for your management team, perhaps as a good read-and-share activity, with each manager reading one chapter and then sharing for two minutes the gist of the chapter, plus one or two good quotes. The book’s popularity is well earned, and although there’s little here that (as the author says) hasn’t been covered by multiple leadership gurus, something about the nation’s sixteenth President is both inspiring and relatable, and his seems-like-a-great-person status in most Americans’ minds adds weight to the book’s ideas.

 

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Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies For Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips - Executive Leadership Articles

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