Abraham Lincoln, the managerial genius

There is no doubt that we are currently in an age of polarisation but it is still nowhere near the levels of polarisation seen in the American Civil War.


A country divided, with a man named Abraham Lincoln determined to reunite the country again. As a great leader, Lincoln is rightfully an inspirational figure but he surrounded himself with an extraordinary cabinet of men.

When Lincoln had come into power he had few friends in Washington and was largely unknown in comparison to his rivals for the Republican nomination. He made an incredible decision to include all three of his biggest rivals in his cabinet, Salmon P. Chase, William H. Seward, Edward Bates. They were all at one point considered more likely to win the presidential nomination and so naturally they didn’t fully believe in Lincoln’s ability.

It is vital to understand more about how he managed his people in his incredible cabinet. Take for example, Salmon Chase.


Lincoln made Salmon Chase his treasury secretary for over three years knowing very clearly that Chase was desperate to be President and that he would spend a significant amount of undermining him. However, Lincoln felt that as long as he was doing well in his position then that mattered more than any personal feelings to each other. The reason wasn’t solely based on ensuring his rivals had powerful positions but it was more about having the best people in the best roles for the country. Lincoln had the self-confidence to know he needed the most competent people around him whilst understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

Salmon Chase as Treasury Secretary Chase hated being ignored and he would often complain to journalists, politicians, generals and friends about the President. He once complained to Horace Greeley a New York journalist, “It seems to me that in this government the President and his cabinet ought to be well advised of all matters vital to the military and civil administration; but each one of us, to use a presidential expression, turns his own machine, with almost no comparison of views or consultation of any kind. It seems to me all wrong and I have tried very hard to have it otherwise – unavailingly.” The manner in which Lincoln handled his relationship with Chase spoke volumes about how he worked with people. He did value friendship but he never put it ahead of the importance of “public service.” He would evaluate what Chase did and said separately as he did not allow his personal differences to come into his decision making when appointing him. He knew what motivated his Cabinet members but to him the most important thing was their actions. Lincoln even recruited Chase’s ally Edwin M. Stanton as his war secretary who was known to be very secretive and not too fond of Lincoln initially.

However, Stanton would later refer to Lincoln as one of the greatest men to have ever lived and that “he now belongs to the ages.”

William Seward was destined to become the President in 1860 and that is exactly what his supporters had thought but they were stunned when the Republican nomination when to an unheard man from Illinois. The President-elect had decided to go with Seward as his choice for Secretary of State and refused to let Seward withdraw from his role on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration. “I cannot afford to let Seward take the first trick.” Just eight weeks after in his position in the cabinet, Seward wrote to his wife that Lincoln was unlike anyone he’d ever met. One by one, his whole cabinet started believing that Lincoln was a special near perfect man.

“He is the most gentle-looking and amiable of men. Every word and look indicate sincerity of heart, even to guilelessness.”

Lincoln surrounded himself with different thinkers, with Seward he had someone who was initially against the idea of abolishing slavery. Once he decided to free the slaves, he brought his cabinet together and allowed them to discuss with one another the best possible to implement the historic Emancipation Proclamation. Many members did not necessarily agree with Lincoln’s decision but he had allowed them to be heard. He allowed people with very different temperaments to argue with him and question his assumptions. This gave a great balance to his cabinet as Lincoln was never short of people who weren't afraid to voice their thoughts. He would often take responsibility for the mistakes of others which made his people become very loyal to him. A man with extraordinary levels of emotional intelligence as he was never afraid to accept his errors or learn from his mistakes.

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



by Sunil Sharma

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