Today we celebrate President Abraham Lincoln's birthday. In honor of the great 19th century leader, I thought that I would take a look at one important leadership lesson pertaining to him. Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke to Harvard Business Review several years ago about her research on Lincoln. She talked specifically about how he made the decision regarding the Emancipation Proclamation:
For example, for months Lincoln let his cabinet
debate about if and when slavery should be abolished.
Finally, though, he made up his mind to issue his
historic Emancipation Proclamation
to free the slaves. He brought the cabinet together
and told them he no longer needed their thoughts on the main
issue—but that he would listen to their suggestions about how
best to implement his decision and its timing. So even
though some members still did not support Lincoln’s
decision, they felt they’d been heard. And they had been. When one
cabinet member suggested that Lincoln wait for a victory on
the field to issue the proclamation, Lincoln took his
I take two key lessons away from this example. First, Lincoln appears to have led a decision-making process that most advisers felt was fair, i.e. he not only gave them voice, but made them feel that their views had been considered genuinely and thoughtfully. Second, Lincoln still gave them room to have input after he had made the final decision. However, he didn't give them an opportunity to undo the decision or revisit the choice. Instead, he brought them back into a dialogue about how to best implement his decision. It turns out that they had a good suggestion regarding the relationship between his political move and a battlefield victory in the late stages of the Civil War. Many leaders could use the time of announcing a decision to pivot the conversation with their team, away from WHETHER to do something to the issue of HOW to do it. In that way, you can give them voice once again, and you can make others truly own the implementation process.