Lincoln on Leadership

Executive Strategies for Tough Times

by Donald T. Phillips (New York: Warner Books, 1992)

Review by Cathleen Myers

This book is enjoying such a great vogue in corporate America and has been highly recommended by so many CEO’s that we were predisposed to detest it. We were wrong! Even if you’re not climbing the corporate ladder, you’ll be fascinated by this informal but well-researched and well-presented study of Lincoln’s "management strategies." Phillips, whose enthusiasm for his subject animates every page, takes an anecdotal approach that Lincoln himself - a master of anecdotal example - would have admired.

So what does Lincoln have to teach Dilbertville? As Phillips himself observes, Lincoln in his first month of office faced challenges that would make even the most experienced CEO tremble: "Only ten days before Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861, the Confederate States of America seceded from the Union, taking all Federal agencies, forts, and arsenals within their territory." He was a President elected by a minority of the popular vote, despised by many of his own advisers, without military training and with limited financial, managerial and political experience. So how did he save the, the nation?

In studying the management techniques and people skills that Lincoln used to achieve this miracle, Phillips finds a number of useful lessons for today’s business managers: "Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops......Persuade Rather than Coerce....Lead by Being Led....Keep Searching Until You Find your ‘Grant’" are just a few of Phillip’s intriguing chapters and, indeed, Lincoln’s long and difficult search for his ideal general is especially fascinating. The fun thing about this book is that Phillips doesn’t merely lecture but lets Lincoln speak for himself, quoting extensive excerpts from Lincoln’s letters, speeches, anecdotes and jokes.

Let’s hope that Lincoln on Leadership stays trendy long enough for at least some managers to learn some of the harder lessons of Lincoln on Leadership. Like the part about sharing your employees’ hardships. It’s hard to imagine the Lincoln who insisted on standing in the rain to review the Union troops ("If they can stand it, I guess I can, too") whining about being bumped from First Class to Business Class for one leg of a business trip.

Phillips himself seems to have picked up some of his subject’s eloquent simplicity of style. His chapter on Lincoln’s alliance building techniques (emphasizing mutual trust) ends with the resounding words "You must remember that people who have not even been suspected of disloyalty are very adverse to taking an oath of any sort as a condition of exercising an ordinary right of citizenship."

As Lincoln himself would say, "That is about the size of it."

Return to Book Reviews

PEERS Home Page.