Sep 5, 2009

Lincoln on Leadership

Last Sunday (30 August 2009) as I was safely tucked into the pulpit someone put in my mailbox a photocopy of the following quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

After reading it with interest, I did some research and found the following explanation about this particular quotation on website dedicated to Lincoln. It said (see: creative/lincoln/speeches/cannot.htm):

These sentiments were created by the Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, who lectured around the United States about industrial relations at the turn of the twentieth century. There is no evidence linking them to Lincoln as the author.

At one time President Ronald Reagan used them in a speech, wrongly attributing them to Lincoln. Those who are familiar with Lincoln's writings, recognize that these statements do not reflect Lincoln's "voice," nor can they be found in any authentic Lincoln literature.

In any event, the quotation reminded me of something that I read about a decade ago. The book was insightful in terms of dealing with people. What follows is a laundry list of chapters in Donald T. Phillips’ 1993 book titled Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times.

Most of these items are pretty practical and those who have read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, (she was at UTA last year) know how winsome and engaging Lincoln could be. Here is a list of Phillip’s chapters:

1. Get out of the office and circulate among the troops
2. Build strong alliances
3. Persuade rather than coerce
4. Honesty and integrity are the best policies
5. Never act out of vengeance or spite
6. Have the courage to handle unjust criticism
7. Be a master of paradox
8. Exercise a strong hand - be decisive
9. Lead by being led
10. Set goals and be results oriented
11. Keep searching until you find your "Grant"
12. Encourage innovation
13. Master the art of public speaking
14. Influence people through conversation and storytelling
15. Preach a vision and continually reaffirm it

Some of my students say that history is boring and what counts is only what is happening right now. Yet I would like to suggest if you can handle people and circumstances with the poise and integrity that Lincoln did, then maybe we won’t flush our historic opportunities down the drain with the rest of civilization.


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