Lincoln on Leadership

By Donald T. Phillips
New York, NY : Warner (1992). 188 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
4.1 (Spring 1993) : 116-117

Although TMSJ has never reviewed a secular book, the uniqueness of this book and its applicability to the all-too-often neglected art of leadership in ministry makes it a prime candidate for examination. Many churches appear to be microcosms of this nation's "civil war" in the 19th century, so a study of Lincoln and his responses to reunite a warring nation is appropriate in deriving principles of leadership that might bring reconciliation.

Phillips has held significant leadership positions in business and is a devoted student of Lincoln. According to him (xii), material on Lincoln's leadership style is virtually non-existent. To the best of his knowledge, his own volume, over eight years in the making, is the first book focusing exclusively on Lincoln and leadership.

Phillips builds on the landmark book Leadership written by James MacGregor Burns. Burns defined leadership in this manner:

Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations`the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations`of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers' values and motivations.

Lincoln On Leadership divides into four parts: Part I/People, Part II/Character, Part III/Endeavor, and Part IV/Communication. Phillips writes in a direct, pithy style, primarily relying upon Lincoln's written correspondence with his political colleagues and military representatives. It deals with both the up and the down side of leadership. Phillips provides the unvarnished truth about Lincoln's dealings with a wide variety of people during what might be, arguably, the most tumultuous years in United States history.

Each of the fifteen chapters ends with a summary of the material under the rubric "Lincoln Principles." The book is extremely well documented and contains a helpful detailed index. Also, a sizable bibliography is available for further study.

Perhaps the reader's appetite will be whetted to purchase and devour this fine book by noting a sample from the final two paragraphs:

It was Abraham Lincoln who, during the most difficult period in the nations's history, almost single-handedly preserved the American concept of government. Had he not been the leader that he was, secession in 1860 could have led to further partitioning of the country into an infinite number of smaller, separate pieces, some retaining slavery, some not. He accomplished this task with a naturalness and intuitiveness in leading people that was at least a century ahead of his time.

Lincoln knew that true leadership is often realized by exerting quiet and subtle influence on a day-to-day basis, by frequently seeing followers and other people face to face. He treated everyone with the same courtesy and respect, whether they were kings or commoners. He lifted people out of their everyday selves and into a higher level of performance, achievement, and awareness. He obtained extraordinary results from ordinary people by instilling purpose in their endeavors. He was open, civil, tolerant, and fair, and he maintained a respect for the dignity of all people at all times. 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 (172-73).