Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lincoln: leadership and vampires

Hoping to beat the heat that blankets much of the mid-Atlantic region this week, I took advantage of our "indoor season" here in Virginia and finished reading Ronald C. White Jr.'s excellent A. Lincoln. It is a compelling biography of one of our nation's true heroes. Today as we experience governmental gridlock, we could use a leader like Lincoln, whose wisdom and determination led him to do the right thing, in spite of public opinion, often against the advice of his "team of rivals"(as Doris Kearns Goodwin so famously dubbed his Cabinet).

I am not quite sure about the new movie Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I have not seen it, but I wonder if its timing was planned to tap into a national zeitgeist. Aside from being in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War , this election year make us think about leadership. Many feel we could use a leader like Lincoln, who was brave enough to stand up to his enemies and fight to the finish (see White's book for a description of Lincoln's ongoing frustration with his generals, "Unconditional Surrender" Grant excepted).

White's biography provides a great case study in leadership. I urge anyone anywhere who wants to be a real leader to read it. I particularly appreciate the pages White devotes to analysis of Lincoln's important speeches and addresses. And the detail he gives on Lincoln's thorough preparation! The master speaker worked tirelessly in relentless pursuit of the right phrase, the correct tone, and imagery. He also kept reams of private "notes to self" in desk drawers wherever he was (law office in Springfield, Presidential Office in the White House) that provided the foundation for many speeches - even years later.

So the myth that he scribbled the Gettysburg address of the back of an envelope is just that  --- a myth. But like the story about Lincoln being a vampire slayer, maybe it appeals to us because we need to believe that someone who is such a monumental figure had superhuman qualities. No mere mortal like us could accomplish so much. . .  Or could she?

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