Abe’s “A-Team”

We’ve used Feb. 12 lecture by Yale professor Steve Smith to examine Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. Smith described decision making during the Civil War as being based in the constitution. “Team of Rivals,” the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography of LIncoln and several members of his cabinet also provides details about Lincoln’s leadership style.

Current day leaders use Goodwin’s book as a leadership manual. Goodwin’s book shows how Lincoln managed the men in his cabinet, including three who competed with him for the Republican presidential nomination. Some of those men, such as Salmon P. Chase, believed Lincoln was unqualified to serve. It’s easy to understand why Chase felt that way. Lincoln’s former rivals were men of privilege who rose to become highly regarded politicians and statesmen. Lincoln had little formal education and spent most of his life in what was at the time the undeveloped western frontier states of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

Goodwin believes that  Lincoln’s decision to fill his cabinet with his highly accomplished and strong willed rivals explains why he  successfully prosecuted the Civil War. The implication being that the preferred leadership style is to tap advisors willing to challenge the leader’s preferred ideologies.

That sounds good on the surface. We don’t want our leaders surrounded by yes men. Yet, tapping advisers who have questionable loyalty is risky. How will you know if their advice is correct or self serving? Anyone who’s watched an episode of “House of Cards” can see the risk of employing an advisor with his or her own agenda and an axe to grind.

Lincoln possessed other qualities that allowed him to use his former rivals without being consumed by their pride and ambition. We will learn more about those leadership qualities when Patrick Furlong, Professor Emeritus of History at IUSB, discusses the book “Team of Rivals” as Centre Township Branch Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11. Fulong’s lecture is one of a series of events that are a part of the six week long “One Book, One Michiana” program. The St. Joseph County Public Library is encouraging people to read The Killer Angels,” Michael Shaara’s historical novel about The Battle of Gettysburg.

Of course, you can’t discuss the Civil  War or The Battle of  Gettysburg without discussing Lincoln. In an earlier post, I talked about how Lincoln used his address at the November, 19 1863 ceremony to dedicate a portion of the battlefield as a cemetery for Union dead to transform the war into a fight for freedom.

I look forward to hearing Professor Furlong and using that information to tie together all I have learned about Lincoln and leadership over the past two months. Hope to see you at the lecture.

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