He is regarded as one of the greatest  all time world leaders. He was no stranger to personal tragedy and he suffered deeply with depression. Yet  his strength of character powerfully moulded the United States to become an eventual world super power. (For more on his personal life see here).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe was able to overcome his inner limitations (see What Are 3 Barriers To Your And My Growth?) so as to turn around a country ravaged by a civil war.  For modern day examples comparable in brutality and blood shed just think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia or Syria today.

How could those violent countries of today be transformed if their leaders took to heart the life and example of Lincoln?

Abraham Lincoln deeply understood how forgiveness and reconciliation coupled with empowerment of others, even enemies, could transform the United States. He had the vision and foresight to see that overcoming the bitterness of the past could transform the United States into a country for huge good in the world.

There is a story of how he was challenged by an elderly lady for gently calling the Southerners who opposed him as ‘fellow human beings who were in error’. She described them as ‘irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed’. Lincoln’s response is as powerful and as relevant today:

“Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Such a statement was not just powerful rhetoric, but was lived out in Lincoln’s life and relationships. By 1865 with the end of the civil war in sight,  the country was in huge turmoil.

Rival groups and factions were strong and simmering. And that was not surprising considering 10% of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30% of all Southern white males aged 18–40 were dead. The potential for decades if not centuries of hatred and animosity was huge. (Think of Afghanistan or Iraq today).

In this context Lincoln was able to bring together a group of leaders who would bring strength through diversity and mutual challenge. Here is how Lincoln biographer, Benjamin P. Thomas put it:

“For a President to select a political rival for a cabinet post was not unprecedented; but deliberately to surround himself with all of his disappointed antagonists seemed to be courting disaster. It was a mark of his sincere intentions that Lincoln wanted the advice of men as strong as himself or stronger. That he entertained no fear of being crushed or overridden by such men revealed either surpassing naiveté or a tranquil confidence in his powers of leadership.”

There is arguably no better example of Maxwell’s 12th law of leadership – The Law of Empowerment.

Lincoln’s ability to handle potential rivals who were stronger and more able than him was the secret to his success in bringing true unity to the country. He made clear to those around him of his confidence in them and the full authority to make decisions he was giving them. An example of that is from 1863 when Lincoln put the command of the Army of the Potomac into the hands of General G. Meade. This is a part of the message he sent him within hours of appointing him:

“Considering the circumstances, no one ever received a more important command: and I cannot doubt that you will fully justify the confidence which the government has reposed in you. You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters. Your army is free to act as you may deem proper under the circumstances as they arise…… All the forces within the sphere of your operations will be subject to your orders.”

Lincoln had sufficient self-worth and inner security to give credit to others when things went well as well as take the blame when there were setbacks or missed opportunities.

His ability to choose the right leaders and then get out of there way is what made him a great leader. By enlarging them he himself became larger.

For me Lincoln’s example challenges me to take the higher ground and not be intimidated by petty squabbles or relatively minor differences. Or in the words of Bill Gates of Microsoft, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

How does the example of Lincoln in this regard of handling people stronger and better than you speak into your own life?