Recently my wife and I traveled downstate to visit Springfield, Illinois. I hadn’t been there in 30 years, and she had never been. Both of us wanted to learn more about one of our national treasures, he who has been called one of the world’s great statesmen, Abraham Lincoln.

There is much we can learn about leading transformational change from this man. During his famed presidency, he accomplished two monumental transformations, seemingly at odds with each other, by directing the Civil War to reunite the union, and passing the emancipation proclamation.

“Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed (1).” As remarkable as it may seem, in 1861 Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he did in it. And the chances are good that if a Union soldier had enlisted early in the Civil War, he saw the president in person. Lincoln made it a point to personally inspect every state regiment of volunteers that passed through Washington D.C., on their way to the front; and early in the war they all passed through Washington, D.C. (2).

As a result, it is believed that Lincoln met every Union soldier who enlisted early in the Civil War. He knew that people were the best source of information, and he knew that connecting with people built relationships of trust. He spent 75% of his day meeting with people.

This is just one example of how Lincoln was a transformational leader. He worked to enroll the troops to win the war. He worked to enroll congress to pass the 13th amendment (although the vote didn’t happen until after his death).

“Enrolling the Troops.” This is one requirement for successful transformation. As a leader, are you out talking with your employees about the change? Are you assessing how it is affecting them? Are you listening for opportunities to fine tune your purpose and agenda?

One executive I worked with led an organization of several hundred employees. As we were working together through one massive transformation, he took time every week to meet with his people to gather the answers to the questions above. Then he interpreted these back to the project team to ensure on-going success.

Are you a Lincoln transformationalist?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

Steve

  • Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  • Lincoln On Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, Donald T. Phillips, Warner Books, Inc.; Reprint edition (February 1, 1993)
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