History beats the drum on him as one of the world’s most celebrated leaders. Personally his one of my favourites.  His name was President Abraham Lincoln. An American politician, lawyer, husband and servant who served as the 16th President of the United States, from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

Lincoln, led the United States through its Civil War (1881-1865).  Not that I know much about these terrible days of civil unrest, but I’ve come to understand, that he also championed one of the bloodiest war during, possibly the nation’s greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis, against the 11th “Confederate States” in the South, known as the slave states.

In doing so, he preserved the Union (23 States), paved the way to the abolishment of slavery, strengthened their national government and modernised the economy.

Leaders such as Lincoln held iconic status, cherished and challenged high ideals that commanded great loyalty and respect. Their leadership legacy in our amoral world has been esteemed as a worthless two cents coin, their memoir diminishes into oblivion by the years, falling short of nothing but a travesty to our future.

Frankly, most people don’t know why leaders such as Lincoln deserve to be hailed. What made him such an extraordinary leader? “Why should I even bother, learning about such and old dude?”

There are many important reasons why.  Allow me to share a few principles from the life of this icon, and also attempt to resolve the question, “does effective modern leadership philosophy backs his methods?”

Five Leadership Lesson of Abraham Lincoln


#1. Invest More Time with the Staff and Less Behind the Desk


As President Lincoln spent more time outside the White House than in it. And it’s believed he met every single Union soldier who enlisted early in the Civil War – they saw the President in person.

Lincoln was President of 23 States but had an open-door policy.

Lincoln knew people were his best source of information.  He spent 75% of the day meeting with people.

A virtue not venerated by “modern leadership,” but certainly supported by the purest form of leadership, because accessibility builds trust.

An accessible leader uses all things possible, including technology or social media to connect and network with his people.

He knows acknowledgement is validation.

He knows investing time makes a huge impact.

He knows  using technology multiplies his touch.

He knows a close door policy intimidates people.

He knows an open door policy invites people.

Not all leaders are accessible leaders, but all great leaders are.


#2. Persuade Rather Than Force


Despite having the power of the presidency, Lincoln didn’t have a strong arm with people, he never used undue force. He also had many enemies but he won most of them over. How did he do it? He made them his friends. He made them like him.

Here’s Lincoln talking about his persuasive leadership methods:

“When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim that a “drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men, if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.”


Leaders like Lincoln handle their subordinates with great respect.  Lincoln didn’t give orders — he made requests.

Look at some of the letters he wrote:
To McClellan (10-13-1863): “…this letter is in no sense an order.”
To Halleck (9-19-1863): “I hope you will consider it…”
To Burnside (9-27-1863): “It was suggested to you, not ordered…”


“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” Abraham Lincoln

Great leaders all portray the same leadership panache.

#3. Give Honour and Take Responsibility


Lincoln always gave credit where it was due, took responsibility when things went wrong. This approach not only confirmed his honesty, integrity, human dignity, but also gave his subordinates the correct perception that they were, in many ways, doing the leading, not him.

Lincoln had no problem saying he screwed up, like in this letter to General Ulysses S. Grant:


“I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you reached the vicinity of Vicksburg… I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I that the expedition could succeed… I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong.”


He trusted the judgment of the people who were on the front lines. This is one of the hallmarks of good military and corporate leadership.

Leadership that works in the toughest situations is democratic in its approach and values a listening style as Lincoln demonstrated. Not worrying about who gets the credit for an idea is key to influencing people.
And the greatest minds of history agree.

As Lao Tzu said: “Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We’ did this ourselves.”


#4. Encourage and Celebrate Change


What did Lincoln know about change or innovation?  Well, he’s the only U.S. President ever to patent something (I’m not sure about Trump.)

“Years before assuming the presidency, Lincoln had shown his interest in innovation when, on March 10, 1849 (at age forty), he received a patent for a new method of making grounded boats more buoyant.”


What does it take to increase creativity and innovation in an organisation? It is pretty simple: reward people for trying new things and don’t punish them for failing.

Even during his most difficult times, Lincoln continued to call on his subordinates to screen new advances and implement ideas.

He realised that, as an executive leader, it was his chief responsibility to create the climate of risk-free entrepreneurship necessary to foster effective innovation.


#5. Influence People Through Storytelling


By all accounts, Lincoln was a great storyteller and leveraged this skill to win people over.

When I coach executives, a challenge which frequently emerges is the “I feel as if I hit the ceiling.” In this case, I employ a technique that quickly revives their conquering spirit. I do this simply by inviting them to tell me their STORY.

In our information-saturated age, business leaders won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories.

Once the mood is right, I ask, “so tell me how did you get to be the CEO?” Yes, a lot of patience and I mean a whole lot is needed.  High achievers are usually overconfident, who just love talking about themselves. On the other extreme, there are those who “play humble pie” -you have to squeeze their story out of them.

Leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others. Their story is the fuel that keeps them going, a tool that inspires others to do the same. When I get them to reminisce on what it took for them to get to the top, suddenly, they realise they can break through any limitation.

No one really remembers facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world. Actually, they don’t stick in our minds as well as great stories do.

Lincoln understood the power of storytelling.

“Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy.”

Inspired by Eric Baker. Written for Time Magazine.  

Our life on this earth is limited, and how we live it matters. Some of the most important questions a leader needs to ask himself are ‘What do I want people to say at my funeral?’, “How do you want people to remember you?”,”What difference do you want to make?” 


When we come to the end of our lives the word -legacy matters most, and as an executive, you have a very short period to create your “executive legacy.” CEOs are not permanent fixtures.  In today’s markets -no job lasts forever, employees move on, and CEOs walk away more frequently than ever.

But no matter the reason for your departures, nearly all executives and CEOs share one common desire, their “Executive Legacy.”

When you arrive at the end of your life one day, “someone will summarise your life in one sentence.” The same applies to the CEO. As you reach the end of your working career, what will that one sentence be that people will remember you by?



Most CEOs simply work, they don’t lead.  Legacy leaders create a lasting impact by intentionality – how they will lead in their working career. Don’t allow you work to lead you; you must lead your work.

Most CEOs concentrate on making their quarterly growth targets. Legacy leaders focus on both their immediate reality but are distinguished by their conviction, regarding the futuristic success of the organisation.


It’s All In The Questions

Legacy Leaders ask questions such as,

“How can we build the kind of advantage that will allow this company to thrive for decades in my absence?” or,

“How will we develop the next generation of leaders, and groom them for challenges that can’t yet be imagined?” or,

“How can we create a leadership pipeline that caters for the development of the new emerging giants – women in leadership?”

When a leader asks these questions, it’s a sign that you are serving titan!  A Leader’s Lasting Value is Measured By Succession -not by some projects he completed or by some institution he has started, but by the many people, he has invested (poured out) his life in.

Legacy leaders seek not only the success of the company but their people. To migrate from success to significance, they are constantly thinking of their legacy.

So is there a secret to building a celebrated executive legacy–especially in an era of shorter tenure?

Here are Four Principles I hope Will Inspire You:


1. Decide What Legacy You Want to Create

To create a powerful legacy with your life, you need to decide what contribution you want to make to the world, or to your company. Most people simply accept their lives. Legacy leaders lead their lives. They create a lasting impact by intentionality and being proactive about how they will lead and live.

To achieve this you will need to know how you want to lead and live. This will require some reflecting on the following questions:

If you knew with certainty that you only had nine more years to live on this earth or nine more months to work in your position as CEO, how would you spend this time and why?

What message do you want to send with your life to the world and to those who matter most to you?

Imagine that you are attending your own funeral. What would you want your family and friends to say about you and how you lived your life?

2. Start Creating Your Legacy Now

It is one thing to know what you want to leave behind and another to actually live it. Most people make a mistake by living their lives as if they have unlimited time. We all have a limited time in this life and at our jobs. If you want to create and leave a legacy, you must live it first now!

Don’t waste your life, waiting for the right person to show up, right opportunity to come to you or the right moment to happen.

Decide to make things happen. Be a person who makes things happen.

Look over your answers to the questions from Point 1. Based on your answers to those questions, identify three to five specific goals you can set for creating the legacy that you want.

Then, for each goal, figure out the first step you can take and start taking it today!


3. Choose Who Will Carry on Your Legacy

Your position is not permanent. You are in that position for a reason and a season, and a big part of that reason is -making way for others to come after you.

Your duty to the company is to:

Proactively search out individuals who will come in once you are gone.

Extend the invitation to such people, train and mentor them, create experiences for them and as you transition out, at the same time they transition up.

This is what legacy leaders strive for in every area of life. If you fail to invest in other gifted individuals who will carry it on, your legacy will die with you.

If you are passionate about something, I challenge you to find someone who will continue once you get tired or called to something else.

Best time to do so is while you’re still in the game!


4. Make Sure You Pass the Baton

Don’t throw the baton, pass on the baton.  The next generation should not have to look for it. Your duty is to pass it on securely.

Unfortunately, most people are so worried about their positions, achievements and seeing the glory of their accomplishments to fade, that they fail to pass the baton to others.

What most people define as great leadership is actually failed leadership,

All because they died with the baton in their hands,

Resulting in a great leadership deficit.

Our ability as leaders will not be measured by the buildings we built, institutions we established, but by how well the people we invested in carried on after we are gone.

“A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.” John Maxwell.