Lessons from Lincoln: Hammers or Handshakes

by | Mar 11, 2015 | 0 comments

3 min read
“The book you don’t read won’t help” -Jim Rohn

We like to read, a lot. One thing we want our blog posts to do is to synthesize works so that you can get a concise version of what leading experts say brought together in one spot. Another thing we do is to make reading recommendations through a review of single works or within our references, when we use the thoughts and ideas from published works. This week we focus on Organizational Leadership.

Let’s recall Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times written by Donald T. Phillips (1992). An oldie but a goodie.

Phillips reminds leaders to “persuade rather than coerce” (p. 38). He tells readers that Lincoln believed that “he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decision.”

This means three things for organizational leadership:

1. Lead, Don’t Police: The Shortcomings of Policies:

First, there’s very little power in policy. Developing policies doesn’t mean that people will follow them. In fact, great leaders find ways around roadblocks. If you’re looking to make a change in your organization, forcing people to do something, dictating with the power of your position, or using a hammer instead of a handshake won’t work. Instead, if you are set out to make a change, you’ll need to focus on creating a cultural shift in your organization. Using core values as the driver is much better than using force.

“Ineffective leaders rely on policies, real leaders rely on influence.” –TheSchoolhouse302

2. Be Visible:

Second, your office is the last place that people should find you. A while back, we published Principals: The Most Important 15 Minutes of Your Day. That piece describes a strategy for setting the tone in the AM, but the reality is that in any organization, the leader sets the tone by being amongst the people. We know your office is full of paperwork, emails, and signature lines, but you need to find time for that other than the time that your employees are at work. Make every effort for as many of your direct reports to see you “working” everyday. It’s likely that they can’t see you if you’re in an office, especially if the door is closed (a closed door can be literal or symbolic depending on how you treat people).

“The best minute you spend is the one you invest in people.” -Ken Blanchard

3. Pervasive & Consistent Best Practices:

Third, go for pervasiveness and consistency with best practices. Pervasive means that everyone is doing it. Consistent means that they’re doing it all the time. Instead of policy, use principles. What are the core principles that you want used daily by your workforce? What are the core practices that you want people to use as they work? What actions, beliefs, and outcomes are most important? Once defined and modeled, these clear expectations are much better than written and enforced policies. Not only will they be clearer, but they’ll feel nicer to have in place, for you and your employees.

These three tips from Lincoln can help your organization reach its goals. He spent time talking to people, shaking their hands, and getting them to see and feel the changes that needed to take place for our nation. He was even explicit as to say that he was not telling people what to do, but rather discussing ideas about inherent truths so that we could all get on the same page. That’s leadership in action. That’s a lesson from Lincoln—use a handshake, not a hammer.

Try using these three strategies in your organization, and let us know how they work for you.





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