Abraham Lincoln’s School of Management

Nancy F. Koehn, an historian at Harvard Business School, has written a fascinating piece for the New York Times on Abraham Lincoln as a “management guru.” In “Lincoln’s School of Management,” Koehn lays out ways in which Lincoln’s approach to management is relevant to today’s leaders. Here are a few enticing excerpts:

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

“Lincoln’s presidency is a big, well-lit classroom for business leaders seeking to build successful, enduring organizations,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an e-mail. Lincoln, he said, “always looked upward and always called American citizens to a higher road and to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by listening carefully to those both inside and outside of his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present and authenticity are essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a country in wartime or a company during a period of transformation.”

The ability to experience negative emotions without falling through the floorboards is vital to entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Lincoln’s ability to shift gears during hard times — without giving up his ultimate goal — is a vital lesson for leaders operating in today’s turbulence. When I teach the case, many executives comment on the importance of shaping one’s tactics to changing circumstances.

Throughout the war, Lincoln was able to experience a range of emotions without acting on them rashly or in other ways that compromised his larger mission. This ability offers another powerful lesson for modern leaders.

I find it fascinating the extent to which Lincoln’s leadership of our nation was directly related to his leadership of himself.

I commend to you “Lincoln’s School of Management” by Nancy Koehn.

  • John Riley

    Really great article. Well written, and stimulating.


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