Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lessons from History

While there are many good books on project management and leadership, some of the best books come in the form of biographies and for me biographies on Abraham Lincoln. The more I read about Lincoln, the more I learn about his tremendous project management and leadership capabilities.

Lincoln was not incredibly organized as we would think a project manager should be. He wrote notes to himself on all sorts of paper and envelopes. I am not sure he could create a schedule and he often told jokes and stories that seemingly took his meetings off track and made them run over the scheduled time. His personal secretaries were constantly frazzled trying to keep him where he needed to be going. So how does this make Lincoln a fantastic project manager?

Among many things here are what I consider to be some of Lincoln’s successful project management characteristics:

· He clearly understood his strengths and limitations – Lincoln hired strong, competent secretaries to help him stay organized. Lincoln also appointed men to his cabinet, former rivals that had the best skills for the job at hand, despite party differences and even their attitude or opinion of Lincoln himself.
· Lincoln always played to the strength on his “project team”, the cabinet, and allowed his team to shore his weaknesses – One such example was Edward Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Stanton was all business and brusque. He did not chit-chat and was not what one would consider a “people person”. Stanton had little time for Lincoln’s joke and storytelling. Yet these traits along with his persistence allowed Stanton to help Lincoln make very difficult decisions about commanders and battles that inevitably gave the Union victory in the war.
· Lincoln was a perpetual learner – When Lincoln became president, he knew very little about the military and warfare, yet this was the job he was called to do. Lincoln spent hours reading about military strategy and diving into great battles of history. This information along with his ability to listen transformed him into one of the most competent Commanders and Chief the nation has ever known.
· Lincoln earned the trust and respect of others with his integrity – when Lincoln first took office, he was thought of as a “backwoods” politician. Many people had little or no regard for his skills. Yet very early in Lincoln’s relationship with people, he did instill a sense of trust and honesty that made his word and promises very powerful. It was this honesty that gave Lincoln the time to prove his worth in terms of actions and deeds.

I doubt there are many in history that could duplicate the talents of Lincoln, but as project managers there is quite a bit we can learn and emulate in terms of self-knowledge, teamwork, and creation of trust.