Lincoln On Leadership — Part 1: People

I recently wrote an entry regarding my Professional Growth Plan for this school year. The second book that I’m reading is entitled Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips. In the book, Phillips discusses and outlines the leadership techniques that Abraham Lincoln used during his presidency. As I remember back to my formal education on Lincoln, I know that he had many obstacles to overcome, must importantly, a civil war. However, I hadn’t really given much thought to how he led his cabinet and the country through those times.

Phillips breaks his book up into four basic parts (people, character, endeavor, communication) meant to showcase the different aspects of his leadership style. I plan to create a new post for each of these parts as I reflect and work through the book.

Part One – People

In this first section of the book, Phillips writes about Lincoln’s interactions with people by identifying three different themes.

  • Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops
  • Build Strong Alliances
  • Persuade Rather Than Coerce

While this book is also geared towards business, there are parallels to education. As I look at district administration I can see the importance of getting out in the schools. I’ve noticed that there is often quite a large disconnect between the reality of what happens in classrooms concerning curricular instruction and what some administrators think is happening. I think this disconnect occurs when they do not get out in school buildings and interact with teachers. Granted, I am not an administrator, nor do I have any proof that this is truly the case. However, I can imagine that, with the work load that administrators are faced with, it would be easy to get bogged down in meetings, planning and other tasks. With that being said, Lincoln found it vital to his work to spend time with those he led. Without that contact, he would be leading blindly and not creating a sense of devotion to his “followers”. In a school district, in order for teachers to feel supported, district administration must be a part of the picture, not the heard but unseen purveyor of policy.

His second point, to build strong alliances, is more usable for all educators. I’ve heard time and time again that one should surround oneself with positive influences and people who will help you fulfill your goals. Luckily, I feel as though my current position allows for this type of work. Through my position I have the opportunity to interact with many types of people from all over the district and, through my personal learning network, the entire world. The scenarios in the book are much different than those that are found in education, but I think that there are lessons that still hold true. One principle that Lincoln stood by was that human action can be modified but human nature cannot. As we deal with the learners who come into our classrooms, we cannot change their human nature. While this may be true, I still have a strong belief that, as teachers, part of what our role in our student’s lives is to help shape that nature. I know it was true in my educational experience. I’m an English teacher because of my Senior English teacher and his influence. I was a coach as a direct result of my coaches. Lincoln’s strategies worked because he was dealing with adults, we are in the unique position to affect entire lives.

As I read his final point, persuade rather than coerce, I couldn’t help but think about the interactions that my department has with teachers and buildings across the district. There are many times in which I’ve gone to help a teacher who was somewhat reluctant to incorporate technology in lessons. There are many techniques that could be used in such a situation but coercion is never one of them. If I were to try to force someone to use a SmartBoard, I would not create an ally and, chances are, as soon as I left the room the SmartBoard would become a glorified, very expensive, overhead projector. Persuasion is much more effective.

Each of these techniques has merit in the world of education and I look forward to the next of Lincoln’s lessons.

5 thoughts on “Lincoln On Leadership — Part 1: People

  1. Well said, Bill! Got the working among the troops & building strong alliances down, working on the persuasion part. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and another great reading resource!

  2. A few years back the administrators in our district were given a copy of Lincoln on Leadership. While reading it back then helped me as a new administrator, your post reminded me to revisit the book once again. I have pulled it off my shelf and will place it on my “next read” stack at home. It will be good to revisit it again over the holiday break.

  3. Mr. Bill,
    Was browsing the web and came across your blog. I was curious so I did some more digging. Could the Senior English teacher you refer to be affectionately called, “Graz?” or perhaps the ever gracious, Mrs. Trimble?

  4. Pingback: Lincoln On Leadership — Part 2 | Mr. Bass

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