The brilliance of Lincoln

The best, tried and true principles have been used by the greatest of those in business, politics, education and sports throughout history. Another demonstration is in the McKinsey Quarterly May 2018 article he leadership journey of Abraham Lincoln by Nancy Koehn.

“He earned a reputation as an attorney who was skilled before a jury. Not because he mastered the laws of evidence or finer points of precedents; he did neither. Instead, this reputation rested on his ability to concentrate a jury’s attention on the few essential points of a case while conceding the less important issues to his opponent.

Lincoln’s ability to relate to juries provides a useful lesson about discernment. Leaders trying to accomplish a worthy mission have to cultivate the ability to identify the one, two, or three essential issues facing them at a given moment. It is never five or ten. It is always one or two—maybe three—issues that really matter. Having identified these, leaders must let the remaining concerns go, either by giving themselves permission to turn their attention away from all that is not central to their purpose or by handing peripheral issues to others, including an adversary. Being able to do this—to concentrate on the most important issues while relinquishing the rest—depends on a leader’s willingness to recognize two things: first, he or she cannot do it all, and second, by saying no to that which is not mission critical, one is actually saying yes to that which is.”

Make the 80/20 Pareto Principle a central part of your business by being selective not exhaustive and striving for excellence in few things rather than good performance in many.

Side note: The 2012 movie Lincoln is a wonderful demonstration of leadership in difficult times. If anyone knows my son, please tell him to watch it (inside family joke).