Traveling through America’s Presidential season one cannot escape the parallels with the times of a century and a half ago…
For this inaugural season, reminds me of the time of another embattled President. A President who had similarly won a landslide for a second term. Abraham Lincoln. The Great Abe and his visionary quest for justice. A mission he led the nation, by sacrificing all he had. His sacrifice? The meagre life and blood he had. Don’t mistake my words here: Meagre by his standards – GREAT by ours.
A man so reviled in his time, he fell sick and even after he won – was assassinated. And yet so praised today. A man teaching me, that the slander heaped upon us — today’s leaders — seems to be so much confetti, when compared to his burden. Yes, that’s the burden of leadership… You LEAD and you leave people so far behind, they can only throw stones at your back in an effort to slow you down.
Washington DC of all places, is where I saw the LINCOLN film and was taken aback. As a matter of fact I remain stunned by the revelations to this moment when writing this piece. Of course – to put it in context – it was around the time of the Presidential Inauguration of a great friend, President Obama — and one cannot remain unmoved. But I never write movie critiques and this sin is not one of my choosing. So this isn’t one either. Just the tangent of the film allows me some reflection on Lincoln’s type of Leadership and his Innovations in both the Politics of the world, but perhaps more importantly, in the elevation of our collective and all too human, selfish wants — into wisdom.
Lincoln’s Innovations go to the heart of the Polity: His innovation is today self evident in the conduct of our affairs and mental capacity to rule and be ruled by our betters. Regardless of creed, religion, colour of skin or ideology. To be governed democratically in a fashion all too emergent – even today – in his time and in our time. To be better as “Citizens” rather than as sheeple led by demagogues. To have, to hold, and live in a Democracy with respect for the minorities amongst us — and to elevate our vision beyond the horizon.
That is Lincoln’s greatest gift to our today. And this movie is such a realistic performance that Daniel Day-Lewis will surely take home this year’s Academy Awards as best Actor. But the real Oscar belongs to Lincoln. The President whose movie will be renamed for me, as the 13th Amendment… forever. The bloody Emancipation of a people steeped in history’s destiny and bleeding the moment.
In my mind this is the portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln and for that it is remarkable. And while Steven Spielberg’s film is set during the American Civil War — the focus on Lincoln’s political campaign to abolish slavery, the political will to succeed on his divine mission at any cost and the subtext about today’ difficult Presidential choices – are all genius.
The film script and enlightened acting focuses on the Man’s relationships and life’s transactions with family, personal and professional difficulties, depression, fate, indecision, death of children, wife’s tempestuous nature, war & peace, his strong cabinet, the errant Congress and erstwhile Senate, the mosaic of American people, his own constituency, his conflicted morality, his private and public principles, his beliefs, and the ideology of the Constitution of America’s vaunted democratic equality – and yet, he never fails to reason. And always connects with today’s difficult decisions of an embattled President who is the embodiment of the struggle that President Lincoln won for all of us…
Because he won the war. He won the gravest battles of them all: The battle to judge a man by the content of his character and the merit of his actions and not by the colour of his skin. The battle to honour a man because of the measure of his humanity and not the thickness of his skin. The battle to make our skin impervious to the insults of racism…
President Lincoln made this possible and President Obama now lives both the dream and the gauntlet that the “tall guy” prepared for him a hundred and fifty years ago in his bid to line the road for a more perfect union…
The legacy of Abraham Lincoln hangs over every American President – but never before as much as today. Because President Obama is both the beneficiary as well as the test tube baby of this ancient rule Lincoln wrote and grafted into the skin of American Democracy.
The legacy of Lincoln is not made up of his historical achievements that we all know about. It’s not really all about his resolute principle to fight and prosecute winningly the bloodiest of internal conflicts – a civil war to free his people, to preserve the Union, and then to go on bind up the nation’s wounds…
All that’s Great, but the real Lincoln’s as President at a moment of great moral passion in his country’s history, is a political Innovator. A deeply flawed human that arose above his station in life and emerged as the Leader of our TOMORROWS… Because real leadership demands a measure of sacrifice of our today so that we can leap forward the fogs of “war” in order to build a better tomorrow.
And who better Man to teach us this strategic political innovation than President Abraham Lincoln. He whom a long with countless many young men in uniform sacrificed all their tomorrows for our better today. He himself – all too knowingly — made the ultimate sacrifice to build a better tomorrow. For — never be mistaken — when you do a great thing people will hate you vehemently… Because you’ve shaken their comfort. An illusory comfort in hell — but that is all of what they know. Like Socrates cave paradox, people are animals — thinking animals who want to believe in their existence…
Yet Lincoln knew human nature well. Having gone through the cauldron of fire for the whole of his Life… He was tested and tested again. Life never gave him quarters to stand still. He was always being tested. And he was pushed along by waves of misery flooding all over him. time ad again. And yet — he came out of it. He came out like a blade fired, and iced and rolled a thousand times… He came out sharp, resolute, cutting and strong. Hard and unyielding. Yet flexible enough to bend all the way – but not break. Swaying here and there and then deciding – after thoughtfully long deliberation. That was Abe and this is his legacy…
Let us then study Lincoln’s long term vision, his brain software grafting capacity, and his high-caliber leadership, because these are the traits we can all use to navigate TODAY and take correct decisions and result in far reaching actions. Actions that will inform our tomorrow’s with the light of knowing and emergence…
In this season of Lincoln, Political leaders, Citizens, CEOs, Business Executives, Entrepreneurs and all other mindful leaders might find it useful to be researching the History of the 16th President’s decisions and impacts, googling his speeches on Youtube, and watching this film along with a visit to your Quora, Wikipedia, or history books to take a closer look at what might be called the Lincoln Leadership Academy.
Seeing this film is a must. And calling the film ‘The Thirteenth Amendment’ or the Emancipation movie, may be more apt for our purposes because there is no denying this is a Political lesson in winning and holding on to the High Moral Ground. And no name appreciation is needed here. He didn’t do what he did to be remembered. He didn’t want to be sacrificed but that he knew was his price too. His Oscar moment. That is what his story is and that is what’s all clear in Leadership terms. Do your bet quietly, secretly, with all your might and knowing that You will be persecuted for this…
What an oxymoron to our current checks and balances and rewards system built in our business life and political agendas.
Abe’s fight to get a Constitutional Amendment to change the law and abolish slavery in 1865 – in the dying embers of the American Civil War is what the essence holds here. And the message for me and for President Obama is clear. The gauntlet for this President of today is to abolish another SLAVERY. A modern version of the old shame…
We must abolish economic slavery. We must abolish abject Poverty. We must abolish Famine. We must abolish the quiet cold stare of disrespect, the stone cold hatred of those unable to feed themselves, and replace all that with the respect of humanity. For we are all created EQUAL…
Economic Slavery today for the many millions of Americans struggling bellow the subsistence line is what am talking about. Am not just talking poverty here… Am talking the disgraceful poverty of not having enough to eat in the richest nation this Earth has ever seen. That’s what am talking about here….
Hear me Mr President: I’ve seen the people going hungry from Mississippi and Alabama all the way to Washington DC. And from California and Washington state all the way to New York and Massachusetts…
I’ve seen Abject Poverty. You don’t have to travel far… A mile or so south from the White House and you are in the midst of despair. Poverty so bleak your eyes water. Poverty without hope. Poverty without recourse. Poverty of epidemic proportions. Poverty so desperate that it has caused an AIDS epidemic. That’s what am talking about…
The abject poverty of slavery is no different that this and it’ a shame for our humanity.
Because the mere existence of this levels of poverty and spiritual slavery only shows our own poverty.
And that’s why people hate me when I say this:
Because I exhibit rationally, the Poverty of our Consciousness.
The Poverty of our Will.
The poverty of our Compassion.
The dismal poverty of our Humanity.
That’s what bankrupting our nations..
And while this Poverty debate might lead to intriguing political fare – Abraham Lincoln’s story is a struggle against POVERTY too. Because after the recent death of his son Willie (the second out of four sons he lost to illness, Lincoln springs in to action. And how often does this remind me of the many millions of Americans who cannot afford the most rudimentary of health care? How many times don’t we hear of families going into catastrophe, losing their homes and becoming destitute and homeless when they are faced with catastrophic illness and it is the time they need their stability the most? How many times don’t we hear and see families who lost their caregiver and were thrown out of the social fabric because of the death of the primary breadwinner, due to an easily curable disease had it been diagnosed early and medically acted upon? Where in God’s name then is the social fiber holding us all together in this great nation under God? Where is Justice, Social Security and American exceptionalism ,when we spend more mindshare on fighting progress than in taking care of our brethren?
And that’s where Lincoln becomes relevant today. Because a fiercely determined President appears to battle the evils of his day — keeping in mind the future and the eye on the prize. Changing people’s perceptions of reality. Lincoln battled slavery in the way that the bondage of poverty represented slavery then and it still represents now.
Because keeping a man poor and bonded in your service is what slavery is all about. And that was the wealth of the South. The cotton crop cultivation, the cotton ginning and milling and the cotton clubbing fortunes were built upon. blood money.. Same as the money earned by some of the richest people on earth – like the WalMart family – dependent on the million of lowest paid poor people working at Wal-Mart’s slavery wages and unable to make ends meet. The American people want this shame to change. But corporate America is fearing change. They say they fear the loss of productivity when the opposite is true. The better paid workers work better. productivity increase every time we have even the tiniest of incremental raises of compensation. And in the opposite case, the out of work masses and especially those even out of the minimum wage work poor who are lost in the debate — there is no future.
Keep in mind; Leaders of all sorts must understand that lack of a social “floor,” lack of hope and no prospect for future prosperity through gainful employment, is not just a form of slavery — it is SLAVERY capitalized. And the wealth generated on their backs is bloody wealth and a curse to society as a whole. Same as the cotton wealth assigned the South into a pattern of underdevelopment that persists today, this form of slavery assigns the whole of these United States in a form of colonial underdevelopment today and perhaps tomorrow too — if we don’t change course drastically.
YES, these actions of corporate America represent SLAVERY. The people they resign to hopelessness constitute today’s slaves. The slaves that we all collectively sold them a pack of lies. A bill of nought. An empty promise. The ones we sold to, the emptiness of the America dream like so much free cable TV… Those are the Slaves of today begging to be emancipated. But who amongst the leaders is listening?
Yes – America is at a crossroads all over again: A different kind of slavery has taken hold. The idea that poverty represents another form of slavery is not my innovation. I stole this line form another man. A great Man before my time. This line belongs to Martin Luther King. A King indeed. King of the people who willfully gave up his life to preach CHANGE and JUSTICE. And yes, it was his idea… yet I truly believe it.
More so today than ever before.
And as President Obama said in his inaugural address last week, America “cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
Yet that continues to be the direction we’re heading in.
A newly-released analysis by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the super-rich have done well in the economic recovery while almost everyone else has done badly. The top 1 percent of earners’ real wages grew 8.2 percent from 2009 to 2011, yet the real annual wages of Americans in the bottom 90 percent have continued to decline in the recovery, eroding by 1.2 percent between 2009 and 2011.
In other words, we’re back to the widening inequality we had before the debt bubble burst in 2008 and the economy crashed. We are actually approaching the time of economic inequality the Southern States enjoyed between landowners and slaves at the time when the Confederacy seceded from the Union… Not Good News for our Union today. Nor is it good news for the state of the world either — because America signals leadership everywhere…
President Obama spoke against it repeatedly and he is exactly right. Not even the very wealthy can continue to succeed without a broader-based prosperity. That’s because 70 percent of economic activity in America is consumer spending. If the bottom 90 percent of Americans are becoming poorer, they’re less able to spend. Without their spending, the economy can’t get out of first gear… and the desperately poor cannot hope to find work and thus get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and dependency…
And the vicious cycle am talking about is the biggest reason why the recovery continues to be anemic, and why the International Monetary Fund has just lowered its estimate for US growth in 2013 to just two percent. Bellow 2% as a matter of fact…
And thus almost a quarter of all jobs in America now pay wages below the poverty line for a family of four. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low wage — like working at big box Wal-Mart type retailers, manning service stations, and serving at fast-food chains.
And at this rate, the millions of new poor every year are unable to meet their basic needs. So the question asked of the Corporate leaders should be: Who’s going to buy all the goods and services America is producing? We can’t return to the kind of debt-financed consumption that caused the bubble in the first place. And the rest of the world isn’t doing any better to absorb the American production surplus…
So who is gonna buy all those Ipads and Iphoness and Imacs and all selfish status symbols our contemporarie cannot live without?
Do you get the seriousness of this? This is more like a prisoner’s dilemma than a simple corporate policy game. We all cooperate and we win. We defect towards our own narrowly defined self interest and we all lose… It’s not a zero-sum game. Wealthy Americans would do better with smaller shares of a rapidly growing economy than with the large shares they now possess of an economy that’s barely moving. This adds economic rational thinking to my argument about the need to abolish the economic SLAVERY of today: POVERTY
If the wealthy Corporate Leaders, the Business Executives, and the leading Americans, were really leading like Lincoln, they would be rational and in a long term vision bound action — they would support public investments in education and job-training, a world-class infrastructure with advanced transportation, water and sewage, energy, internet, faster wage growth, emancipation from poverty and basic research – all of which would make the American workforce more productive and the American economy far more resilient.
If the Corporate Leaders of today were Lincolnian and rational they’d even support labour unions – which have proven the best means of giving working people a fair share in the nation’s prosperity sharing in the enterprise’s fortunes and causing a sense of ownership of the future. Remember — we are all in this together after all…
Even before “Lincoln” came along, there was a certain light of inspiration from his life’s achievement and work. But today, as President Obama embarks on a second term of leading the “office” and business leaders object to his policies – especially Wall Street and Finance house CEOs, it’s important to remember: The struggle to keep pace with a rapidly changing global economy, the challenge of the growing wealth disparity in these United states, and the lessons of Lincoln’s leadership are all intertwined. Because Lincoln’s challenges seem as relevant today as ever. They demonstrate the importance of resilience, forbearance, emotional intelligence, thoughtful listening and the consideration of all sides of an argument before arriving to a decision. And they also show the value of a greater Human Vision than simple quarterly profits. The greatness of staying true to a larger mission. The Aspiration to succeed for all of us. Not for one’s self only…
Lincoln’s presidency is a big gift to all of us and especially to the US. Mainly because the man always looked up. He looked upwards to the stars and always called on American citizens to choose a higher road. He called all Americans and the world, to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by LEADING.
Leading and listening carefully to all sides. Hearing those both inside and outside of his cabinet, his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present authentically, and staking your high moral ground with principle pickets, are all essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a company, a country in wartime or peace time, or even an innovative Start Up during the period of transformation from chrysalis to butterfly.
Life is tough – Get used to it.
Life is not fair – Bear it.
Life is your cauldron of fire – Endure it.
That’s Lincoln for me. Because even before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, 150 years ago, Lincoln confronted a string of military setbacks, intense political opposition and his own depression and self-doubts. In the summer of 1862, the slave owning Southern forces – under master general Robert E. Lee – attacked repeatedly, relentlessly, and with a courage bordering on recklessness, the Union cities and supporters. They attacked so hard that the North realized that the Civil War — originally envisioned as a short, swift conflict — would be much longer, bloodier, and far more difficult than ever imagined. And that was the death warrant of Lincoln…
Northern newspapers and politicians assailed Lincoln’s administration for incompetence. The number of Union Army volunteers dwindled and desertions skyrocketed. The fancy abolitionists who since the war’s start had urged Lincoln to move aggressively against slavery, grew increasingly frustrated and went quiet in the face of public rancor.
All of this bore down on the President and threw him into depression. When he learned that George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had retreated after a series of conflicts known as the Seven Days’ Battles, Lincoln described himself “as nearly inconsolable as I could be and live.” And, personally, the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie, five months earlier still weighed heavily on both the president and his wife.
Yet despite all of his mental suffering, Lincoln never gave way to his darkest fears. His resilience and commitment to preserve the Union helped sustain him.
The ability to experience negative emotions without falling through the floorboards is vital to Political leaders as Churchill said and to entrepreneurs and business leaders. Strategic Leaders have to lean to the wind throughout their days. Entrepreneurs must maintain their professional composure while staying true to their goals, vision and their integrity – in order to first gain wisdom and then – maybe – only maybe, succeed in the marketplace of ideas and great products.
Lincoln is striking because he did all this under extremely difficult circumstances. His ability to navigate such difficult terrain was about emotional intelligence and the deep faith he nurtured about his vision. But some of it was also about how he gathered advice and information from a wide range of people, including those who did not agree with him. This is important in building a business because you have to listen to customers, employees, suppliers and investors, including those who are critical of what you are doing.
Lincoln had long opposed the expansion of slavery, declaring it wrong, morally and politically, because it violated the rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness set forth in the Declaration of Independence. But he had also made it clear that preserving the Union was more important than trying to abolish slavery immediately thus proving his pragmatic nature and mature political will…
Yet in the early summer of 1862, events conspired to change his perspective. There was Union general McClellan’s humiliating retreat, the mounting overall toll of the war, the incredible never yet seen to that day, bloodshed — and the rowing support in the North for attacking slavery. His earlier concerns were overridden by political expediency, rational exigency, and simple Realpolitik.
“Things had gone on from bad to worse,” Lincoln recalled later, “until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game!”
Lincoln’s ability to shift gears during hard times — without giving up his ultimate goal — is a vital lesson for leaders operating in today’s turbulence. When I teach Start Up Innovation and Business Leadership, many times, I explain to executives the need to pivot. Because this is the lincoln lesson of the importance of shaping one’s tactics to changing circumstances and thus pivoting and being flexible enough to allow for a changing landscape resulting from a changed world view.
Sometime in late June or early July of 1862, Lincoln began drafting what would become the Emancipation Proclamation. On July 22, he told his full cabinet that he had “resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice,” but rather “to lay the subject matter of a proclamation before them.” He had decided that, as of Jan. 1, 1863, all people held as slaves in states in rebellion against the United States government would be declared forever free.
Lincoln had always been a slow, deliberate thinker, examining an issue from all sides. The cabinet was divided over the proclamation, but at this point he was unlikely to be dissuaded. Nevertheless, when Secretary of State William H. Seward suggested that the president wait for a Union victory before issuing the proclamation, lest it seem “the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help,” Lincoln agreed.
In mid-September 1862, after a bloody victory at Antietam in which more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded, Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation public. Practically, it would free none of the almost four million slaves held in the Confederacy, where it could not be enforced; it made no claims to liberate slaves held in the border states that were not in rebellion against the United States. And it did not free slaves held in certain parts of the Confederacy occupied by Union forces.
But as Lincoln understood, the proclamation was a radical act. In declaring certain slaves free as an act of military necessity, it transformed the meaning and stakes of the Civil War. What started as a conflict to save the Union as it had existed since the 1787 Constitutional Convention had become a contest to save a new, different kind of United States — one in which slavery was permanently abolished.
Americans reacted strongly to the proclamation. Abolitionists greeted it with acclaim, but many in Lincoln’s own party called it unconstitutional. Union Democrats condemned it; the Democratic-leaning New York World said Lincoln was “adrift on a current of radical fanaticism.”
In the South, President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy called the proclamation an effort to incite servile insurrection, saying it supplied additional reasons for the Confederacy to fight for its independence. Foreign response was also critical, partly because the proclamation posed a potential threat to cotton supplies. That November, the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation, the war’s huge casualties and the government’s deteriorating military fortunes combined to hand the president’s party major reverses in the midterm elections.
Faced with these and other setbacks, Lincoln grew more depressed, but his commitment to the proclamation did not waver. When he signed the final document into law, he knew he was altering a landscape that had become much larger than when he became president. And he realized that he must communicate his own steadfast commitment to a larger purpose.
Throughout the war, Lincoln was able to experience a range of emotions without acting on them rashly or in other ways that compromised his larger mission. This ability offers another powerful lesson for modern leaders.
Consider Lincoln’s emotional state after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863: Lee’s retreating forces had escaped south into Virginia and out of the Union Army’s reach. Lincoln was frustrated and furious. He composed an angry letter to Gen. George C. Meade, who had commanded the Union forces at Gettysburg, writing him that Lee “was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war.” He added: “Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”
But Lincoln decided not to mail the letter. Instead, he placed it in an envelope labeled “To Gen. Meade, never sent or signed.” There is no question that Lincoln had cause to lament the general’s inaction, especially in the larger context of the president’s early experience with Union Army officials, but he recognized that he couldn’t afford to alienate him at such a crucial time. He practised forbearance and kept his own counsel quietly
In November 1863, at the cemetery in Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke briefly and outlined the important moment in which America found itself and which he had helped create. In 272 words, he laid out the stakes of the Civil War, asserting that its bloody toll was necessary in order that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Here is his speech:
When I discuss the Gettysburg Address with executives and entrepreneurs, they often tear up and weep quietly. It is moving but it touches them on so many levels one cannot begin to describe…
Lincoln often traveled to battlefields to visit Union troops, and he held open “office” hours in the White House to receive interested citizens — and their countless requests. Like Lincoln, Today he is credited with leading a very successful political and military turnaround and remaining magnanimous towards the losers. Forbearing in defeat and magnanimous in victory is how Lincoln governed. He ruled the people steadfastedly by turning a nasty situation of a hopeless war to the victory of winning the UNION. Because he was willing to forgo the satisfaction and gratification of victory – the Union was saved. People forget that preserving the Union was always Mr Lincoln’s priority… It was never just about winning the war. The urgent matter at hand must not distract us from the long term vision and the goal we set to achieve. That’s what leadership is all about.
In my class, executives often point to the strength that Lincoln found to bear the death and destruction of the war and to weather intense opposition and still not relinquish his mission. If there is one point when Lincoln discovered his own leadership backbone, it was surely in conceiving and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and then committing himself and the country to its broader consequences.
And as am traveling and teaching across America, Often hear their dismissal when I discuss my Lincoln leadership lessons with executives. Their refusal to put the parallel of slavery of today’s poverty to the slavery that Lincoln addressed through his emancipation proclamation in their minds, is one of the most powerful lessons they need to take away. Being responsible for a country and all the people and issues involved forces you to come to terms with yourself and rise to the challenge, not once but many times. Lincoln, was able to do this in a way that amazes and inspires me today — having seen the film — more than ever. Yet my students not so much… Maybe becoming an executive assigns certain values in one’s mind that place a disconnect to the heart and the real brain. Or maybe it’s the poverty of ideology and the poverty of compassion and the poverty of humanity we all suffer from…
Some day they will surely get it like the famous general Lee… Because when finally at Appomattox, Va., general Lee of the Confederacy surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, head of the Union forces – the game was up and the date was April 9th 1865. many years of war and bloodshed were required to accept reality: All men are created equal.
The South finally got it, the North abolished SLAVERY, the Union was preserved and President Lincoln’s fate was sealed. Still after so much bloodshed, venomous Hate ruled the day. One more sacrifice was needed to seal the deal of history… The blood of the innocent.
Six short days later, Lincoln was assassinated. And the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect two years earlier, would become part of a broader process of emancipation that culminated in ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.
Lincoln ruled from the grave…
His vision was so strong that long past his day on earth, the United states Congress and senate passed the resolution to ratify the Amendment to the Constitution.
Now that’s LEADERSHIP.
Lincoln, taught us that whether you are a business leader, an entrepreneur or a government official, one’s foremost responsibility is to serve all of the people, and not just one’s self-interest. Lincoln knew that success, like good wine and great food are best when shared.
Lincoln was able to learn and grow amid great calamity. His story, like no other, demonstrates that leaders do not just make the moment; they meet it and, in the process, are changed by it.