I am really looking forward to seeing Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, Lincoln when it is released on the 25th of January 2013 in Ireland. The initial reviews of the film from the US are very good and let’s be honest when was the last time you saw a poor performance from Daniel Day Lewis?
The film got me thinking about the actual man. Who he was and what he stood for. There were aspects of his life and personality that I found so compelling that I wanted to write a blog about them. Most people know that Abe Lincoln was a tall imposing figure standing at 6’4’’, he was synonymous for wearing a black top hat and he fought for the abolition of slavery in America. What you may not all know and what I learned from reading about him was his impressive character and the substance of the man. So what can we learn about the man from the myths?
1. Rags to riches…
Abraham Lincoln came from a very unremarkable background. He grew up in a log cabin with two other siblings in Kentucky and he was the middle child. His parents moved to Indiana in 1817 where the family “squatted” on public land. As was in keeping with the time his older sister and younger brother died in his infancy. His mother died at the age of 34 leaving the young Abraham Lincoln devastated. So a child who grew up in the backwoods of Kentucky and who was relatively uneducated until he entered early adult life went on to become the President of America.
No matter how humble our beginnings or circumstances we can all achieve greatness. Surely Abraham Lincoln’s story epitomises the very essence of the now fabled “American Dream” as his life was a real “rags to riches story”.
2. If at first you don’t succeed…
Abraham Lincoln failed a lot during his career. A famous quote that Lincoln used was: “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Clearly Lincoln was not content with what others perceived as his failures.
Here is a list of some of those ‘failures’ or setbacks he had in his personal and business life:
Lost job, 1832
Failed in business, 1833
Sweetheart (Ann Rutledge) died, 1835
Had nervous breakdown, 1836
Defeated for nomination for Congress, 1843
Lost renomination to Congress, 1848
Defeated for Senate, 1854
Defeated for nomination for Vice-President, 1856
Again defeated for Senate, 1858
Elected President, 1861
Modern positive psychology would tell us to that there is no such thing as failure but rather just experiences. These experiences can be internalised by us as either successes or failures. Clearly like most successful people in business or politics he was able to use and interpret these experiences in a way that supported his development and ultimately lead to him becoming the 16th President of America on March 4th 1861. As Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Relating this back to my own life and work experiences in recruitment, professionals come to me a lot looking for advice on changing their job. At first they may not have the requisite interview skills to get the job they are looking for even though I help them prepare for it doing mock interviews, coaching and offering feedback. However, even after this initial coaching, professionals don’t always perform at their best in their first formal interview. This is often due to confidence and practice. However, it can be the case that with each interview ‘failure’ you can actually get closer to securing your ideal job? If at first you don’t succeed…
3. “Hold your friends close and your enemies closer”
This phrase was actually coined by “Michael Corleone” in The Godfather Part II. However it absolutely could apply to Abraham Lincoln because he used to say: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
Most of us would assume that if we don’t like someone or if we don’t get on well with them than we try to alienate them or certainly keep them at “arm’s length”. However, this didn’t apply to Abraham Lincoln. He did the opposite in his career when he most famously appointed many of his rivals into his cabinet and sought their counsel on important issues.
The lesson that I have taken from this professionally is that it is really important to get all the major stakeholders “bought” into a project. This often means engaging with not only your perceived ‘allies’ or the people on your team who you easily associate with. In fact, it is probably more important to involve your ‘enemies’ in the process. In other words bring the people who you don’t always see eye to eye with “inside the tent”. Seek out their opinions and thoughts. Actively involve them in the project. In so doing you will be surprised at their invaluable insights and also how invested they become in the project or process.
In the above blog I have mentioned just 3 lessons that we can all take from Abraham Lincoln. These are lessons that we can apply to our own lives’ both personally and professionally. The remarkable thing is that I could have added another 6 or 7 life lessons that we could all have learned from Abe. To name but a few Abraham Lincoln loved life, his family and was committed to lifelong learning and personal development.
Let me know if there are any other important life lessons that you think should have added to this list?