Career Advice, Leadership

Lincoln’s Leadership Lessons and Happy Thanksgiving

21 Nov , 2018  

With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is valuable to reflect on the origin of Thanksgiving and its importance for our nation and families today. Abraham Lincoln made his Thanksgiving proclamation on October 3, 1863, during the midst of the great Civil War. He knew division and the importance of reconciliation like no leader before and figured a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise” would help the divided country immensely.

Although not at the scale of some 160 years ago, we see division in our country today. Each day, we read about some hard feelings after the election, and it is likely that many of us will encounter political discussions during the holidays with family and friends. Of course, there are lots of other planes of disagreement in families, too. Overcoming disagreement of opinions with loved ones can be hard, so I thought looking at Lincoln for his wisdom would help us, as he was a master of overcoming disagreement. Leaders are constantly challenged with disagreement and forced to make hard and unpopular decisions, challenging their character and morals. Asking “What Would Lincoln Do?” challenges us take the high road and offer our most thoughtful and caring approach in overcoming disagreement and in giving “Thanksgiving and Praise.”

I should also add that as an avid photographer, I have long admired the photographs of Lincoln. Nearly every picture of him evokes a man deep in thought – careful of word and action, mindful of more important goals, and considerate of others, especially those in need of his protection and guidance. In short, he reminds us of what a leader must do.

Here are a few Lincoln quotes that remind me of “What Lincoln Would Do.” These are also great lessons in leadership.

  • Remember to make the world a better place than you found it.

“Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”

  • Remember that work and effort are critical in achieving your goals.

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

  • Remember to thank those that labor for you. Also, if you want to amass capital, invest in labor!

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.”

  • So true, then, now, and always:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

  • Disagreements can and should be forgiven.

“No matter how much the cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.”

  • Reach out to that cousin, colleague, classmate, business partner, political adversary, and (yes) protester with a different point of view.

“I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend.”

  • Don’t be offensive and don’t take offense.

“We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.”

  • Focus on doing your best and ignore the critics.

“If I care to listen to every criticism, let alone act on them, then this shop may as well be closed for all other businesses. I have learned to do my best, and if the end result is good then I do not care for any criticism, but if the end result is not good, then even the praise of ten angels would not make the difference.”

  • Often the hardest thing to do is to challenge yourself with another person’s views.

“I don’t like that man. I’m going to have to get to know him better.”

  • Remember to compliment the cook, host, and everyone that will make your family’s Thanksgiving special.

“Everybody likes a compliment.”

  • To the people unhappy with the election results, a reminder that you mostly control your own emotions and feelings:

“A person will be just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

  • To those helping in the kitchen:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”

  • To President Trump and all leaders (in governments, businesses, and all forms organizations):

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

  • Remember to give thanks. It is what Lincoln would do and asked us to do!

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

To you and yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

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About Russell Walker, Ph.D.

Professor Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and Big Data. He is Clinical Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University. He has advised the World Bank, the Department of State, SEC, IFC, multiple US Senators, the Bank of England, and a host of corporations.


His most recent book, From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics is published by Oxford University Press (2015), which explores how firms can best monetize Big Data. He is the author of the text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management through business case studies.

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Russell Walker helps companies develop strategies to manage risk and harness value through analytics and big data. He has done novel research in data monetization and digital disruption and advises leading firms on these topics. As Director of Experiential Learning in Analytics and Associate Teaching Professor of Marketing and International Business at the Foster School of Business, at the University of Washington, Dr. Walker is an academic thought-leader on analytics. Russell Walker has developed and taught leading executive programs on Big Data and Analytics, Strategic Data-Driven Marketing, Enterprise Risk, Operational Risk, and Global Leadership. Previous to moving to Seattle and the Foster School, Dr. Walker was Clinical Professor at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, where he founded and taught many popular courses in analytics and risk management. His is the author of the book From Big Data to Big Profits: Success with Data and Analytics (Oxford University Press, 2015) which examines data monetization strategies and the development of data-centric business models in the new digital economy. He is also the author of the award-winning text Winning with Risk Management (World Scientific Publishing, 2013), which examines the principles and practice of risk management as a competitive advantage. Dr. Walker consults with firms on the topics of Big Data and Analytics, Data Monetization, Risk Management, and Business Strategy. Russell Walker can be reached at: @RussWalker1776

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