Lincoln's Leadership: Excellence in War Management

By Thomas W. HarrellEmmett Mac Corkle
1986| Working Paper No. 900

Lincoln’s management of the Civil War used so many of the principles described by Peters and Waterman (1982) in their best selling book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies, that we have attempted to analyze Lincoln’s leadership in those terms. His psychological processes showed remarkable skills and insights. This, in spite of his having some melancholic tendencies to depression earlier. He had tremendous stresses from without and even from within his home from his wife, a sympathizer for the Confederacy, who revealed some damaging war secrets to the enemy. This might have been expected to send him into another depression. Instead his good natured sense of humor and sophisticated managerial judgement continued throughout. He stuck to his knitting by maintaining his prime objectives: a restoration of the union. But he was indeed “hands on, value driven”.Lincoln had mumilty which probably was due to his being secure with himself. He had an “open-door” policy. He did break channels on occasion, but he got results.He was “hands on” to such an extent that he was criticized for taking charge of the war more than a President should have done, e.g., giving too many technical orders. His Productivity Through People included frequent Management by Walking Around (MBWA), both in Washington where he went to the offices of Scott or Halleck or cabinet members rather than summoning them to his office. Even more impressive for his MBWA was his frequent trips to battle-fields to see McClelland and other generals which gave him a chance to visit not only with his generals but with officers of lesser rank and enlisted soldiers. Another principle which Lincoln followed was one of the principles in Peters & Waterman, it was “Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties.” While Lincoln did delegate to McClellan and particularly later to Grant, he wanted action by certain dates, and occasionally specific action.To summarize, Lincoln was an excellent leader and manager. Throughout difficult situations he maintained his objective of restoring the Union.