Despite all this, Abraham Lincoln's past turned out to be a poor guide to his leadership as president. Yes, he stumbled badly on several occasions. And yes, privately, he was frequently anxious about the outcome of a war that became, he said, "fundamental and astounding."
Moments of doubt test and shape every leader. In Abraham Lincoln's case, several factors unrelated to his resume determined his ability to meet the challenges. The first was Lincoln's ability to see his own significance on a larger stage. Another was his suppleness -- fire generals, rehire them, teach yourself military strategy. A third factor was his commitment to framing the stakes of the larger moment -- what was at issue, what were the tradeoffs, why did it matter?
A final and critical aspect was Lincoln's thoughtfulness -- not only in the public choices (and speeches) he made, but also in the late-night conversations he had with himself about the ultimate meaning and worth of what he was doing.
In all these ways, the man met the moment. And both were profoundly affected.
Nancy F. Koehn, an authority on business history, is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She is currently working on a book about the most important leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln and another on social entrepreneurs.
|McDonald's gives Charles Ramsey free food for a year|
|Where your donation dollars go|
|Make $30 an hour, no bachelor's degree required|
|The 'chicken poop' credit and other bad tax breaks|
|Why doesn't Apple cut its prices and sell more iPhones?|