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Honest Abe

Directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring a cast of acclaimed actors headlined by the venerable Daniel Day Lewis, the recently released film Lincoln was destined to be a big hit at the box office. What was less expected, however, was how resonating the film would be as a master class on leadership.


Anyone familiar with American history understands that landmark pieces of legislation have often been met with strong opposition. In the case of the 16th President, the passage of the 13th Amendment was a signature work that now echoes in our society and is frequently paid tribute to, such as in the case of this film, although that infamy exists despite a great deal of resistance in its time.

Mirroring political history, the greatest strides forward many other facets of our world are often made in the face of those reluctant to change. Hesitation to adopt new technologies is a barrier for innovative new businesses, and doubters in the board room prevent the risk-takers from reaching for the stars; yet thanks to those willing to step up and lead, business, culture, and life can move forward.

Any politics aside, the Lincoln portrayed in the film (and the real man, for that matter) is remembered and even revered for his unequaled understanding of what it means to lead. In particular, 3 qualities demonstrated by the Tallest President come to mind:

Humility: Lincoln prioritized the good of the country above his own personal interests. He listened to others and considered their opinions before making decisions.

Honesty: Lincoln truly earned his most famous nickname, Honest Abe. Despite the prevalence of bribes and lies in politics at the time, he maintained a dignified authenticity at all times, bringing honest pleas to his cohorts to accomplish progress the right way.

Perseverance: In the face of a seemingly impossible goal of ending both slavery and the Civil War, Lincoln refused to compromise, and pushed until the very end to ensure victory on both fronts.

There have been countless books written and seminars held trying to describe what it means to be a leader in business, whether as an entrepreneur or an executive. Some might argue that there are only born leaders, while others believe that personality makes all the difference. In the end, what we can take away from this film and the historical record of Abraham Lincoln is that our actions are crucial to earning the respect and trust of our peers and our customers. Win the admiration and respect of the opposition, like Lincoln, and success will follow naturally.

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