Lincoln on Leadership – 15 Principles IT Managers Should Follow

One of my favorite books is Lincoln on Leadership written by Donald T. Phillips. In this book, Mr. Phillips discusses “executive strategies for tough times”. You and your company may be facing tough times, , , recent events have created significant challenges for many.

In this article, I’ll give you the highlights of the 15 strategies. These principles are excellent for IT managers to focus on and can make a big difference in the results you achieve.

First, an introduction to Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln was not always successful. In fact, his career was filled with failure before he was elected 16th President of the United States. As you know, it was a time of internal conflict and by the time he was inaugurated, the Confederate States had already seceded from the Union. Civil War ensued taking more American lives than all the World Wars Americans have fought in combined.

Many believe that Lincoln’s perseverance and focus on the long run for America  literally held the country together, albeit over much war and suffering. In retrospect, he was the right man for the job at the time.

Fifteen management strategies from Lincoln
1. Get out of the office and circulate among the troops
Your people need to see and hear from their manager. It’s difficult to fully gauge and appreciate the work that’s getting done (or not getting done) by sitting in your office. Most of us in IT are shy and more introverted so getting out to visit the “troops” may not be easy for us but it’s necessary.

2. Build strong alliances
You have to have partners in business – at senior management levels, department manager levels, even with employees. Successful managers have strong support and it is these alliances that generate the support you will need, , , in both good times and bad times.

3. Persuade rather than coerce
This is a good one. Ninety percent of us in IT have an authoritative management style. We need to learn how to persuade rather than order. Persuasion requires more communication and helping the other party understand the benefits of our decisions and “what’s in it for them”. It takes more energy, but the results are much better.

4. Honesty and integrity are the best policies
Sooner or later dishonesty is going to be discovered. Treat everyone with respect and professionalism and it pays dividends.

5. Never act out of vengeance or spite
When you do, you make irrational decisions that can undermine your credibility and success in the future. Look for win-win scenarios and understand that for it to be a win-win, the other party has to win first.

6. Have the courage to handle unjust criticism
Tough one for high detail people like we are. We don’t like to be criticized. When a client jabs us from frustration, we must know that this is simply an opportunity in disguise, , , so don’t take it personal. Stay above the fray and focus on the objective. Words of criticism may sting but don’t allow them to prevent you from doing the right thing. Win over an angry client and you may have an ally for life.

7. Be a master of paradox
It’s important to be consistent but at times you need to do things a bit differently. For example, focusing on improvements needed by two different programmers may mean you focus on quality for one and productivity for the other. Lincoln pushed some of his generals to make decisions faster while encouraging others to take more time. Understanding the dynamics of people can help you manage them better.

8. Exercise a strong hand – be decisive
Managers must make decisions and they need conviction and purpose with their decisions. Create a “ready, aim, fire” approach by doing your homework and preparing, develop a plan that will help you succeed, and implement the project successfully. The results will be extraordinary.

9. Lead by being led
Understand what your people need in a leader and lead by example. Doing things that resonates with your people and makes sense to them will help them achieve their mission.

10. Set goals and be results oriented
Managers who create a vision, or strategy, and achieve the results are the managers who we assign more responsibility to, , , and who we look to in tough times to help us be successful. Become a manager who creates strategy, gets it approved, and delivers projects successfully and you will separate yourself from your peers.

11. Keep searching until you find your “Grant”
After several failures, Ulysses S. Grant emerged as Lincoln’s general that was finally able to defeat the Confederate Armies led by Robert E. Lee. Instead of settling for less than expected results, Lincoln made organizational changes in his army at the highest levels until he had the right formula. Circumstances, timing, and personalities all led to the Union Army finally winning over the Confederacy. Grant became the 18th President of the United States.

12. Encourage innovation
Even in the 1860’s, Lincoln understood the importance of innovation and in doing things differently. He gave his generals considerable flexibility to innovate and try things that they thought could make a difference. He encouraged risk taking and took the approach of, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. Lincoln was truly a manager who empowered others to do more.

13. Master the art of public speaking
Another tough one for IT managers but something that can catapult your career. IT managers who have excellent communication skills are rare. Become one and it can boost your career.

14. Influence people through conversation and storytelling
In other words, don’t dictate things to them – learn to have conversations with your clients and employees. Relating tough issues with stories can defuse a situation and get your point across very effectively. Develop your communication skills to be truly successful.

15. Preach a vision and continually reaffirm it
To achieve your strategy, you have to sell it and reinforce your goals every day, , , and with all parties – department managers, senior managers, and employees. If Lincoln had not “kept his eye on the objective”, the United States as we now know it would be separate countries today.

Lincoln was hated and despised by half the country during his presidency, but his perseverance and commitment led to a stronger more perfect Union. It’s easy to see it was one of the most difficult times for any President. The principles he managed by as discussed in the book can help managers deal with the complex and challenging environments we work in today.

Lincoln on Leadership is a short read and an interesting book. I encourage you to read it and incorporate these 15 principles into your approach to managing an IT organization.

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