Lincoln is considered to be one of the top 3 Presidents alongside Roosevelt and Washington. A self-educated man from the mid-West he is probably best known for opposing slavery, winning the American Civil War, and the famous Gettysburg address.
A book about his leadership during the Civil War, “Team of Rivals”, was apparently Barack Obama’s choice if he could only take one book with him to the White House.
So what was he like as a leader? He has been accused of using patronage and setting people up against each other to “divide and conquer”.
According to historian Doris Kearn Goodwin, who wrote “Team of Rivals” Barack Obama tried to emulate Lincoln by bringing into his cabinet heavyweight politicians who were either past or future Presidential candidates, eg Hillary Clinton, and who were his most able rivals. People who weren’t afraid to speak up and were confident of their own leadership abilities.
Gordon Brown, the UK’s unelected Prime Minister (taking over from Tony Blair) proposed something similar in 2007 when he spoke of changes and having a “government of all talents” (GOATs). This never worked for him and he lost office in 2010. He was seen as a dour individual with little personal warmth or charisma and demonstrating little evidence of having emotional intelligence.
Goodwin puts Lincoln’s success down to being able to manage the egos and ambitions of his rivals to create a team capable of managing the challenges of a Civil War. She thinks this inclusive leadership style requires a very high level of emotional intelligence. He learned from his mistakes, shared responsibility for others’ mistakes, and didn’t hold grudges.
He also appeared to make time to relax visiting the theatre on a regular basis and had sense of humour and an ability to tell stories.
He wasn’t perfect. He liked people, didn’t want to hurt them, and gave them second chances. He wasn’t ruthless enough in getting rid of people such as the head of the Union Army at he beginning of the war. His failure to do so lost them battles and cost thousands of lives, probably unnecessarily.