March 2013


The struggle over the greater good revealed the character and leadership ability of Lincoln.

At first, Lincoln was mildly inspirational about his desire to see the thirteenth amendment passed. He was somewhat aloof, casting vision and attempting to cash in political capital. He struggled with his desire to end a war that had claimed 600,000 lives and yet the moral opportunity to change America forever for the good.

Honest Abe was very open with his cabinet about his struggles over legality. He showed vulnerability in pursuing the best course he could see at the time. Was he right to use war powers? Did he really have the ability to emancipate the slaves as seized property? He admitted that all those previous steps would leave him very much exposed if he didn’t take it all the way and win legal freedom for the slaves. In the end, his vulnerability won over his leadership team.

Then Lincoln struggled with the means. He tried to keep his hands clean, asking his Secretary of State to organize the dirty work himself. But when push came to shove, Lincoln abandoned deniability and realized the vote would fail without his personal involvement. He waded into the work to win votes, meeting personally with some key leaders who were on the fence.

He led from a broad base of input and used a broad range of tools. He sought input from voices as disparate as influential donors, a cabinet of political foes, soldiers both black and white, telegraph men and White House servants. He pushed, pulled, cajoled and won over. Only when he’d narrowed the gap to two votes at the eleventh hour did he attempt to bring his considerable power to bear.

In the end, he had to sit back and hope that he’d done enough. It was out of his control. Thankfully, it went the way he desired. But that’s leadership: you really only have influence, and then people make their own decisions.

This film was a completely different story than Amazing Grace, which detailed a 40-year peaceful struggle to free the slaves. But Lincoln was just as compelling a story and leadership profile. It left me thinking, and it left me inspired. (more…)

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Another thing I noted on watching Lincoln: the president was comfortable with himself, as unlikely his path to the presidency had been.

I loved the way Lincoln was confident enough to pull in a seemingly-random metaphor or tell a story, and not flinching even when it ended up falling flat or seeming irrelevant. His Secretary of War had no time for his stories, at one point walking out when he began one at a bad time. But he pretended not to notice and calmly told his story anyway.

I anticipate, in my second year in this role, I will begin to gain confidence to be myself and not try to emulate any other leaders. That’s been a difficulty for me, especially in the early months as the search process got serious. I was working in the Offices of the President of Wycliffe USA and had the opportunity to observe Bob Creson closely for two years. Frankly, I do a poor imitation of him. I also do a poor Lincoln, a poor Churchill, a poor Bill Hybels and a poor Andy Stanley. The best advice I ever got on this subject came from a Dove chocolate wrapper:

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

I think at times this year, I’ve pursued likability and political capital through a strategy of not offending anyone. Perhaps that was an appropriate strategy for my first year. My second year will require something different, however. The challenges ahead will require stronger vision, more resolve and deeper vulnerability. Love it or leave it, I’m going to be myself. (more…)