Monday, February 11, 2013
LESSONS FROM LINCOLN
As everyone knows, this Thursday is Valentine’s Day. But, did you also remember that this Tuesday, February 12th, is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday? Now that we Americans celebrate both George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays on “President’s Day,” many of us have forgotten the exact dates of their births (Washington’s was February 22nd). Maybe this year we are a little more attuned to Lincoln’s big day; after all, many of us have seen the Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln, which is also nominated for many awards at next month’s Oscars event.
But, even without this remarkable movie, it’s hard not to be attuned to (or at least well aware of) the life of America’s 16th President. It is said that roughly 15,000 books have been written about Mr. Lincoln—more than for any other human in history except Jesus Christ. Clearly, who he was, what he stood for, and what he accomplished have for decades captured the imaginations of people all over the world. We don’t intend to write yet another book about Abraham Lincoln, but in honor of his birthday this week, we thought it might be inspiring to recall some of Lincoln’s steadfast and highly effective practices. Though so many of those practices pertained to his leadership over the country and the military during the Civil War, it’s not such a leap to apply them to leadership in marketing. After all, how many books have also been written comparing success in business to success in war?
Marketing Leadership Lessons—from A. Lincoln
1. Set the clearest possible objective…and make sure everyone on the team knows it and executes to deliver it. Since Lincoln is the only president in U.S. history to have been at war during his entire presidency, it is no wonder that he spent so much time and energy (as Commander-in-Chief) formulating military objectives and strategies. Nor is it surprising that he also interacted with, and replaced, a good many generals before finding the one general who completely understood his main objective in winning the war. Of course, most Unionists and Union Army Generals well understood Lincoln’s over-arching political objective of sustaining the Union, per his constitutional duty. But his main military objective, which was equally succinct and clear—to destroy the Confederate Army—took years to get underway. McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and others consistently pursued a different (and wrong-headed) military objective: to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.
In James McPherson’s splendid 2008 book, Tried By War, there are numerous anecdotes to illustrate the confounding refusal by Lincoln’s commanding generals to follow his crystal-clear military objective: “…When it became clear that Lee’s whole army was leaving Fredericksburg, Hooker requested Lincoln’s permission to move quickly fifty miles south to attack the lightly defended Richmond defenses. ‘To march to Richmond at once…would be the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.’ Lincoln must have shaken his head in frustration when he read this telegram. He immediately wired Hooker: ‘Lee’s army, and not Richmond is your true objective point. The enemy’s long and necessarily slim line…gives you back the chance I thought McClellan lost last fall’” (page 180).
2. If you really want to win, you must sustain a sense of urgency—it ultimately becomes your competitive advantage. If you read any accounts about the early years of the Civil War, you are struck time and again by the swiftness, and even surprise maneuvers, that characterized the Confederate Army’s behavior. Conversely, you cannot help being stunned by the “slows” of the Union Army. Lincoln and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, relentlessly pushed their field commanders to act, to move, and to do so with speed. Perhaps more than anything else, it was the Confederacy’s sense of urgency that gave them so many early victories and momentum in the war. In so many of Lincoln’s correspondences you can read and actually feel his personal sense of urgency (even if that same urgency was unappreciated by his generals).
Again, from Tried By War: “So the commander-in-chief acted as his own general-in-chief…Lincoln spent most of his time in the War Department telegraph office firing off dispatches to Fremont, McDowell, and other generals. He ordered Fremont to cross the Bull Pasture Mountains with his fifteen thousand men ‘to move against Jackson at Harrisonburg and operate against the enemy is such a way to relieve Banks. This movement must be made immediately.’ Fremont replied that he would ‘move as ordered.’ Lincoln thanked him and urged that ‘much—perhaps all—depends upon the celerity with which you execute it. Put the utmost speed into it. Do not lose a minute’” (page 93).
3. With a “win” in hand, continue the offensive. There are many instances of Union commanders failing to pursue a retreating Confederate division, perhaps none as infamous as General Meade’s failure to keep after Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg. Again, understanding the importance of this pursuit links back to an appreciation of Lincoln’s over-riding military objective: to destroy Lee’s Army. But, then, as we know, Gettysburg was a horrendous affair for both sides; it would not be hard to understand how “taking a breather” as the fighting wound down might happen. Still, in hindsight (and even hours after Lee retreated), it’s clear that the Union missed a major opportunity.
Lee’s Army retreated from Gettysburg on July 4th, 1863. The news that reached Washington was viewed as a Union victory…but, naturally, Lincoln and his team wanted more—an all-out pursuit. It was not to be. As McPherson relates, “On July 4th at Gettysburg, Meade issued a congratulatory order to the army, and added: ‘Our task is not yet accomplished, and the commanding general looks to the army for greater efforts to drive from our soil (i.e., the North) every vestige of the presence of the invader.’ When Lincoln read these words he burst out: ‘Drive the invaders from our soil! Great God! Is that all?’ To John Hay the president exploded: ‘This is a dreadful reminiscence of McClellan…will our Generals never get the idea out their heads? The whole country is our soil’” (Tried By War, page 182).
4. Continually inspect what you expect. As president, Lincoln made nearly 200 visits to the troops, many of those in the surrounding Washington encampments. He also made 15 battlefield visits, with Gettysburg being his best-known. Why was he out and about so frequently? Certainly, he felt a great responsibility for the men fighting to save the Union. And his many visits to field hospitals illustrate his personal desire to share some comfort with the wounded and dying. But, clearly he also used many field meetings with his commanding generals to reinforce his expectations. One of his first visits to McClellan’s headquarters was squarely aimed at inspiring the general to action. It’s no wonder that Lincoln found it necessary to regularly meet face-to-face, in the field where the action was, because getting his expectations met took constant reinforcement. Note, in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals how General McClellan wrote his wife after the president’s first visit: “While McClellan conceded in a letter to his wife that Lincoln ‘was very affable’ and ‘very kind personally,’ he rightly suspected that the ‘real purpose of his visit is to push me into a premature advance into Virginia’” (page 484).
We hope you find these few lessons as inspiring as we do, and that, when applied to building your brand, they result in a sustained “victory.” Just one other thing: Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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