After great anticipation, I saw the movie “Lincoln” this weekend. I have a great deal of respect for Lincoln’s leadership, and I use him as a primary example when training on the principles of servant leadership.

Many of the principles that I have read about on Lincoln’s leadership came through in the movie. Needless to say, I was looking for them.

First and foremost, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Lincoln was driven by his purpose, values, and a vision for a better future. His focus on a vision of “One nation, under God, / and Freedom and equality for all” drove his actions, decisions, and strategy on leading the country. He communicated this vision so it was shared, he had courage, and he would not compromise in his quest for this vision for the country. It was extremely costly, as many lives were lost but his values and vision were the driving force behind the success of the agenda.

Of all of Lincoln’s leadership attributes I think his listening skills were most well illustrated in the movie. He was always open to listening to get other points of view. He had an open door and was extremely approachable as the President of the United States. One of the more interesting spots this came through was when he listened to his oldest son about his desire to join the service when he and his mother really did not want him to, however he understood his desire and allowed his son to enlist. His listening came through in many other critical decision points as well, which you can look for when watching the movie.

Lincoln did not sit in his office and govern from isolation. Instead he got out among the people, the Congress, the hospital infirmary, and on the battlefield. One of the more moving moments in the movie is when the President was on a horse riding in the aftermath of a battle in the Civil War to understand the cost of human life in this quest for freedom for all people.

Another great leadership attribute of Lincoln’s that came through in the movie was his ability to control his emotions. He was normally calm, reserved, patient, and under control. However people knew when critical issues were at hand and action needed to be accelerated.

There are many, but here are a few key lessons from Lincoln on leadership:

  • Live by your purpose, vision, and values
  • Clearly communicate your vision so it is shared and embraced
  • Listen first to understand, then to be understood
  • Learn from listening to different points of view
  • Get out into the field and directly lead your people
  • Be approachable and control your emotions

There are also many quotes from Abraham Lincoln, but the one I like the best and cling to is this: “Without God’s help I cannot succeed, but with it I cannot fail”. Abe Lincoln was truly a great leader, and I am appreciative of the lessons he provided that are timeless and useful for servant leaders today.