The Civil War understandably overshadows a lot of Abraham Lincoln’s political prowess, which is unfortunate, because studying his methodologies and strategies can not only teach us a lot about leadership, but it can also teach us a lot about how to be a human being. The way that Lincoln formed his cabinet, which is one of the core stories of Team of Rivals, illustrates what kind of leader Lincoln really was.
Letting other people knock each other out
Going into the Republican Party’s convention in 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s greatest goal was to be everyone’s second choice. It seemed pretty well written in stone already that William H. Seward of New York would be everybody’s choice. He had been in politics for a long time, he was from New York, and he had political mastermind Thurlow Weed as his mentor. It seemed impossible that anyone could bring him down. Lincoln thought his best chance might be to win the nomination as Seward’s Vice-President.
Something very interesting happened at that convention though, and it really only worked out for Lincoln because he paved the way for himself.
You see, Weed and Seward had ticked off a very important man – Horace Greeley. Greeley was the editor for the New York Tribune, and as such, he had worked hard to support both Weed and Seward, but they didn’t pay him back with any offices or money. Greeley made it seem like he had forgiven both of them, but when he got to the Chicago convention, he told everyone that they really couldn’t trust Seward. He built enough of a case against Seward, in fact, that he started making people doubt whether Seward was really the best choice.
Against all of this, Lincoln had done his best to keep an extremely low profile. He waited as long as possible to announce that he was interested in the nomination so that no one could build up a case against him, and he was extremely careful not to become “objectionable” to anyone that would be at the “wigwam” in 1860.
History would tell you that this all turned out pretty well for Abraham Lincoln. He did indeed become everyone’s first choice because he had established himself as such a strong second choice.
Acknowledging your rivals’ finer points
Here’s the part that historians still marvel at today. After that very anxiety-ridden convention, Abraham Lincoln immediately began to think about who he would want in his cabinet should he be elected President. According to Goodwin, Lincoln sat down in his room the night he was elected and sketched out his entire cabinet much like someone would work out a crossword puzzle. The very first name he included, as his Secretary of State, was William H. Seward. He also invited Bates and Chase, who had run against Lincoln and Seward in the election. Why would he do this?
Lincoln clearly realized two important lessons that we would do well to study and remember today.
1. If someone comes close to beating you, they must be pretty darned good.
2. If someone comes close to beating you, you want them on your team as fast as possible.
The hardest part of engaging
The example that Lincoln set in 1860 has long been overtaken by people who become so embittered against their rivals that working together becomes impossible. Can you imagine Obama inviting McCain into his cabinet? It was shocking enough that Obama and Clinton were able to work together.
More to the point, can you imagine promoting and supporting a rival of your own?
If a person who you feel does not surpass you makes it onto one of those “best of” lists, do you congratulate them?
If a person whom you think of as a competitor wins recognition for their blog or for their product or for their accomplishments in general, do you applaud them or do you plot revenge?
It seems to me like a lot of people these days only are interested in being the best. At everything. They take no interest in partnering with people who might be slightly different or who might offer a slightly different perspective.
Maybe we all need to take a look back at Abraham Lincoln, who on the eve of the destruction of his nation worked to bring several disparate views together under his own Presidential roof.
What do you think?
This is post #61 in the engagement series. I hope you are still finding it useful!
image by sanja gjenero. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lusi