150 years (and one week) have passed since the first shot was fired at Ft. Sumter. That makes this an excellent time to celebrate one of the great leaders of that era. President Abraham Lincoln, the most lauded leader this country has known, is almost a cliché when discussed in terms of leadership. “Yes, yes,” we say, “Lincoln was a great leader”. It is rare that people really discuss actual anecdotal evidence to back up the praise bestowed upon this honored character.
Let’s talk about how he built his presidential cabinet. I recently read the book, “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Well written, her description of how Lincoln decided to fill his team is a fascinating read. When most people set out to build their “dream team” they pick from their friends or at least put a heavy weight on the positive personal relationships they have with the prospective members. How often does a leader gather those who actually are the best people for the job, the actual experts, the folks with the best personality to lead, in spite of a good relationship? Let’s go one step farther, who would choose people with whom you have been in direct, fierce competition with for a couple of years?
As both a leader and a member of the team, our goal should be focused on the mission, and working together in order to meet the goals. Granted, this is not always easy. When President Lincoln won the Republican nomination for the President of the United States, he had to assemble his team, knowing they were on the brink of civil war, knowing much of the country thought it had been a fluke that he was now the Republican nominee. It is unlikely that any of us are assembling our teams under such pressure. As he assessed his situation, he looked to the same gentlemen that he had just been vying against for the nomination, he looked to some men who held great contempt for him, and he found a way to build a bridge until one by one they stood by his side. Perhaps it was divine intervention (given the future challenges they faced) or perhaps it was simply one of the greatest leaders that ever graced the United States of America, showing us all dignity in the face of tremendous difficulty.
As we lead teams, or participate as team members, let’s bring out our best “Abe Lincoln”, and put our differences aside to do what is right. If you are a project manager or a team leader (of any kind), do not be so quick to dismiss those you seem to disagree with. Keep your minds open, if you know a particular person is the best for the job given their personality or experience, build a bridge, extend a hand and take a step toward greatness together.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2006. Print.