Guest Post: How to Apply Abraham Lincoln’s Leadership Style Today

Strong leadership is the core that supports all the other elements of a team, organization or business.

On the flip-side, weak leadership can sink a ship as soon as it’s left the dock. Or in business terms, it will hurt productivity, sap morale, slowly pull apart the most capable of teams and hurt the business where it counts — the bottom line.

Defining a great leader in a few sentences is nearly impossible. If you look at the figureheads of successful organizations, you’ll see a broad selection of personalities and leadership styles.

Some people possess intangible abilities to lead others. But for the most part, you can work on yourself and become a better leader by listening, learning from others and being adaptable.

So, why not draw from some of the best characteristics of the most influential leaders in history?

There are none more influential than US presidents, and according to a poll conducted by Rasmussen in 2007 (source), Abraham Lincoln was is second most popular US President of all time (behind George Washington).

Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the greatest American leaders. He had a nearly endless list of accomplishments and handled great responsibility while leading a country at war with itself, proving we can learn a lot from his leadership style.

Here are some of his most distinguished leadership qualities that can be applied to the modern workplace.

The Importance of Communication

Undoubtedly one of, if not the most, important quality in a good leader is being able to communicate clearly and effectively.

Lincoln was a great conversationalist, frequently captivating audiences at dinners and functions, just as he captivated people through his writing and speech.

The US faced many social and individual issues during Lincoln’s time in the White House, and something as simple as a misunderstanding or a statement taken out of context could have been explosive.

Lincoln had a, “Listen first, speak second,” attitude. He used easily understood vernacular, even though he had an impressive vocabulary to fall back on when needed.

Sharing the Praise and Taking Responsibility

Lincoln was known as someone who never blamed other people when something went wrong. He also was quick to praise everyone involved when something went well.

Before criticizing others, he would talk about his own mistakes and shortcomings. The best part of this characteristic is that he learned from his mistakes and helped others to learn from theirs.

When Lincoln practiced law, he would use the power of pen and paper to attack and criticize his opponents both privately and publicly in newspapers.

On one occasion he crossed the wrong person and was challenged to a duel. Not being the combative type Lincoln avoided the duel, but at the expense of his ego.

This is a story that’s stuck with me and is something I talk about with managers and leaders. It often brings home an important lesson: think before criticizing.

Being Personable and Approachable

It’s said that Lincoln knew the first name of every member of his staff in the White House — and their husband’s or wife’s name. Remembering and using people’s names help you to connect with them and shows them you care.

It was small details like this that warmed every member of staff to him and motivated them to excel.

How much do you know about your team members? It’s worth remembering that you probably see them as much, if not more than their partners in some instances. Beyond knowing their family, take an interest in their pets or their hobbies.

Knowing some small details shows that you are invested in a person, not just looking at them as cogs in the corporate machine.

Likewise, sharing details about yourself makes you more relatable and personable. You’ll be surprised how often you find common ground with people around you.

Controlling Your Emotions

Being a leader can evoke self-doubt and put the fear into the strongest of personalities. Nothing wrong with that, but how you handle your emotions matters.

One of my favorite Lincoln quotes describes this best:

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

One of the reasons Lincoln is so highly regarded as a great leader is because he feels relatable to many people.

This is due to him not being afraid to show his emotions and show he was human, but at the same time he controlled his feelings and kept calm.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot we can still learn by looking back at influential historical figures like Lincoln.

These are just a few of the characteristics that Abraham Lincoln displayed during his time in office that contributed to him being known as one of the greatest presidents, leaders and human beings in American history.

Lincoln’s leadership characteristics should provoke thought when looking at our leadership style and the choices we make in our businesses.


Bio: I’m Noel Griffith, a careers adviser and all-around passionate people-helper. You can find me at if you have any questions or you’re looking for some direction in your career.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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