Of the hundreds of books written on leadership, there are few that tout the benefits of a modest leadership style to a business. In his book ‘How to be Great’, James Adonis showcases some of the greatest leaders from history and unpicks what made them great. His feature on one of America’s most significant Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, focuses on his modest leadership style and how it empowers a team.
What do we know about Abraham Lincoln?
Born in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. He was born in poverty in a one room cabin on a farm and had minimal education. His early life involved working menial jobs to make ends meet. Lincoln had a love of reading and would travel long distances to borrow books to read. Through his love of books, he became a lawyer through self-education. As a lawyer, Lincoln was renowned for his fairness and integrity. He was often referred to as ‘honest Abe’. His accomplishments during his tenure as President were significant: he is often credited with preserving the union and bringing about the end of the civil war and slavery.
So what can we learn about leadership from Abraham Lincoln?
If you have ever worked for an authoritarian leader, you will know the effect it has on their team. Quite often, they make the decisions that will affect the team and others, without considering their input. Team members will feel that their opinion is not valued and that they don’t have a role in determining future plans. Conversely, laissez-faire leaders, as discussed by Rose Johnson in her article ‘5 different types of leadership styles’, lacks direct leadership of their team and doesn’t provide adequate feedback on performance. The risks of this style of leadership include poor performance and high costs.
Abraham Lincoln had a modest leadership style which can be very empowering for employees. Some examples of a modest leadership style noted by Adonis include using the terminology ‘we’ more than ‘I’. Under a modest leadership style, individuals are an important part of the team and always receive credit for success. Modest leaders credit others before themselves and take responsibility for their failures. They are also aware of their limitations and call upon the skills of the team to complete tasks.
When facing setbacks, modest leaders also spend time in reflection, determining how they may have improved the result and accounting for gaps in their strengths and weakness.
How might I develop my modest leadership ability?
• Changing simple things like your language communicates that success is a team effort
• Taking responsibility for failure is refreshing when a common standard is to make excuses
• Being aware of your limitations and your contribution to success or failure is important to your self-development
‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ – Abraham Lincoln
If you would like support with developing your teams, speak to the HR Consulting division at Flexi Personnel.