Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Leadership that stands the test of time

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You know for sure whether leadership ideas and practices work by how long they last. The new ideas we come up with today will take time to prove themselves—that’s the tricky part.

One of the great leaders of the past—whose teachings and ideas have held strong for more than 150 years—is Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. He was an uncharacteristic leader for his time, perhaps even more so for our time, and yet his principles and teachings on leadership have withstood the test of time.

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In a search for timeless leadership principles I ran across the book LINCOLN ON LEADERSHIP, Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.

Lincoln on LeadershipRealizing I cannot do justice to this book in a short blog post, I will share a few quotes from Lincoln that personify his leadership. I will use the author’s four categories to group them. I realize many of you may have read this book a decade or more ago, but I hope this compendium of Lincoln’s principles and quotes will provide value.

People:

  • Be the very embodiment of good temper and affability.
  • Lincoln gained commitment and respect from his people because he was willing to take time out from his busy schedule to hear what his people had to say.
  • Divisiveness breeds weakness; “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
  • When you extinguish hope, you create desperation.
  • “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”
  • A good leader avoids issuing orders, preferring to request, imply or make suggestions.

Character:

  • The architecture of leadership, all the theories and guidelines, falls apart without honesty and integrity.
  • Trust, honesty and integrity are exceedingly important qualities because they so strongly affect followers.
  • “Have malice toward none, and charity for all.”
  • “I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.”
  • You must come to grips with the paradox of providing employee security while also encouraging an environment for risk-taking.

Endeavor:

  • “I’m not in favor of crushing anybody out! If there is anything that a man can do and do it well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.”
  • Like Lincoln, the best, most decisive leaders are those who have a set purpose and the self-confidence to accomplish that objective.
  • Seize the initiative and never relinquish it.
  • Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.
  • Choose as your chief subordinates those people who crave responsibility and take risks.

Communication:

  • You should often couple written documents with verbal discussions, thereby catching the idea with two senses rather than just one.
  • “I am not simply a story-teller, but story telling as an emollient saves me much friction and distress.”
  • A good laugh is good for both the mental and physical digestion.
  • “If you aim too high your ideas will go over the heads of the masses and only hit those who need no hitting.”

In concluding the book Phillips states: “Lincoln’s attitude and behavior as president of the United States essentially characterized the process that symbolizes acceptable and decent relations among human beings. Abraham Lincoln was the essence of leadership.”

Timeless principles of leadership…enough said.

Questions: How do these leadership principles from Lincoln apply to your work? Which principle has had the most profound effect on your leadership? You can leave a comment in the space below.


The Product Management Perspective: Lincoln was a classic influential leader. His approach and principles apply perfectly to leadership in product management.

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