Behind the Executive Door

Where personality meets leadership.

On Leading Like Lincoln

Essential leadership behaviors for ensuring business success.

Watching Daniel-Day Lewis’s mesmerizing – and Oscar-worthy -- performance in the film, LINCOLN, I thought about the parallels between his struggles for the country, and the struggles of current CEO’s for their companies.  While business leaders’ issues are hardly on a par with Lincoln’s inter-twined mission to end the Civil War and to abolish slavery, they do necessitate moral and humane leadership that perpetuates the stability, promise, and prosperity of their “unions” – or commercial enterprises.  And like Lincoln, the days and nights of business leaders are fraught with as much loneliness, marital tension, and fear as they are with the exhilaration of success.  

 Watching Lincoln, we are reminded of essential leadership qualities.  We are reminded of the qualities that distinguish merely effective leaders from those who break away from the herd in pursuit of lasting transformation.  We are reminded that these qualities have less to do with education and experience than they do with moral certitude, courage and persistence in the face of all adversity and enmity, too.  We are reminded of the behavioral how of leadership.

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 For business executives, effective leadership in these Darwinian 21st century business conditions requires the integration of the behavioral how dimension of leadership with distinctive what strengths they already possess.  These sine qua non strengths include an exceptional grasp of strategic indicators, marketplace dynamics, and the volatility of global economic factors.  A combination of the what and the how leadership capabilities presents an altogether other leadership phenotype – one that is fast becoming a true differentiator – especially among the most gifted global leaders.

 From Lincoln we see many timeless leadership behaviors -- here’s a checklist of 10:

  •  Certainty about a bold path forward
  •  Relentlessness  - in pursuing a bold and urgent path forward
  •  Charisma – sufficient to enlist/align others on an identified path forward
  •  Resilience – physical and emotional stamina to remain patient, as well as to withstand critical attacks
  •  Optimism – sufficient to inspire and motivate others
  •  Humility -  willingness to seek advice when needed
  •  Unconditional respect for others’ views/ability to adjust one’s own  
  •  Emotional intelligence -  ability to use both positive (charm, humor, praise) and negative (frustration, anger, disappointment) emotions effectively
  •  The power of gratitude
  •  Compassion – for both one’s self and others.

 If you are a leader now, or have aspirations to lead, this checklist may prove to be a helpful guide for your continuing development.  In other words, ask yourself this question:  What’s my best version of Lincoln?

Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn is a licensed psychologist, executive consultant and author of Behind The Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Career.

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