Change Management Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

january 27, 2013

Another great article about Abraham Lincoln and his leadership abilities in today’s NY Times Business section – “Lincoln’s School of Management.”

“Lincoln’s presidency is a big, well-lit classroom for business leaders seeking to build successful, enduring organizations,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an e-mail. Lincoln, he said, “always looked upward and always called American citizens to a higher road and to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by listening carefully to those both inside and outside of his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present and authenticity are essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a country in wartime or a company during a period of transformation.”

November 26, 2012

David Brooks Op-ed in the Nov. 22nd NY Times discusses the new Spielberg movie “Lincoln.” and makes some great points about leadership and change management.   For example, he illustrates how Lincoln did not apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to his influence strategy.  Instead, he understood each individual stakeholder, and crafted an influence strategy for each one.

“Lincoln plays each potential convert like a musical instrument, appealing to one man’s sense of idealism, another’s fraternal loyalty. His toughest job is to get the true believers on his own side to suppress themselves, to say things they don’t believe in order not to offend the waverers who are needed to get the amendment passed.”

Read the entire NY Times article here

Great stuff!  We always think of Lewin, Bridges, Kotter, et al as the big guns of change management.  Who would have thought that the Abe Lincoln was the original!

From March 15, 2012:

I heard a phenomenal piece on NPR tonight on the way home from a client.  If you are even passively interested in the art of change management (or a little interested in history) you must read this!

Lincoln knew that their would be massive resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation.  Read about what he did to minimize that resistance and ensure support.  This is a truly remarkable story.   I will be adding comments about this soon (when I have more time).  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Click here to go read or listen to the story on NPR/All Things Considered

It did not take any genius to anticipate the backlash that would follow the Emancipation Proclamation, but the clarity of vision, and the “systems thinking” as we would call it today that Lincoln employed to achieve his vision is absolute genius.

“He knew he was going to do [the emancipation proclamation], but he wanted Northern Americans who were dubious about marching toward racial equality to be assured that he was not doing this for the black race. He was doing this for the Union, to reunite the country, to defeat the rebellion…”

So Lincoln has a gathering of prominent African-Americans at the White House, to which he also invites the press, and then proceeds to blame them for the war – in front of the press!

There is a great lesson here.  Clarity of vision and purpose by leadership, and the fortitude to do execute your strategy to achieve the goal – breaking eggs in order to make an omelet, if you will – is the single most important factor in driving change.   Just go to the link and listen, or read it.  More soon.

One response to “Change Management Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

  1. Excellent – enjoyed listening to this audio immensely. The insights for change managers are terrific


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