Saturday, February 16, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Lincoln: Timing is Everything

I recently finished the brilliant and monumental Abraham Lincoln biography  Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I feel compelled to share some of the leadership lessons I've taken away from the book. Before I share the first of my lessons learned, I want to recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in Lincoln, the Civil War era, American history or biographies in general. I tackled the book mainly because I was curious about how Lincoln managed a group of high-powered men who often disagreed vehemently and competed for power and for Lincoln's attention, yet successfully steered the nation through the treacherous waters of the Civil War. Because of the huge amount of historical and personal details Kearns included in the book, I'm not sure this is an ideal book for someone interested only in leadership. That being said, I found the book to be rich and rewarding, and I discovered powerful leadership lessons in Lincoln's life as chronicled by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

In my years of educational leadership, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that timing can be just as important to the success of a plan, a change, an initiative, a move or an announcement as the thing you're trying to accomplish. Throughout most of Lincoln's political career, his timing proved to be uncanny. Lincoln had a knack for knowing when to announce news, make statements, make changes, make personnel moves, engage in confrontations, remove himself from situations or reveal plans. For Lincoln, patience and pensiveness often paid off in spades, as he pondered each situation and weighed all possible courses of action and their potential outcomes before making his move. Example after example from his life demonstrated that had Lincoln's timing been different, either too hasty or not swift enough, results would have been drastically different. Lincoln's keen timing, I believe, stemmed from his remarkable understanding of humans and human nature; the importance of this cannot be overstated.

Lincoln's example holds relevance for educational leaders in the 21st century because timing matters as much today as ever. There are times when leaders should move swiftly and without hesitation, and times when patience should be exercised. This principle applies to myriad scenarios including new initiatives on campus, curriculum changes, personnel moves, and more. Educational leaders get themselves in trouble frequently by executing good or even great ideas with poor timing. Likewise, educational leaders often set themselves apart as exceptional leaders by timing their decisions and moves wisely.

In my next post, I will examine Lincoln's decision making process, which, interestingly enough, is a process I try to use in my own decision making.

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