With the 2012 presidential election wrapped up, and January's inauguration looming on the horizon, life is getting (somewhat) back to normal in the United States. But the past few months have been filled with stories of great presidents, leadership and change, and tales of how those have impacted America's direction over the course of the past few centuries.
A few good presidential examples can be used to guide a business toward success, as well. Business owners would do well to follow a few of the examples set by Abraham Lincoln, long considered one of the most respected presidents in American history. His reputation is not an accident; instead, he carefully crafted an expert team, sought leadership from multiple subordinates and cabinet members, and turned debate into his best chance for success.
And while it's true that business owners won't be fighting any wars, Lincoln's policies of leadership and discussion are a powerful way for entrepreneurs to get ahead and maintain strong footing in their industry.
You CAN Hire Others Who Disagree with You
One of the most notorious aspects of Lincoln's administration was that it was largely comprised of his rivals. One of the best examples of this is Lincoln's choice for Secretary of the Treasury. The job is typically reserved for those who agree with the president's policies, and have a strong desire to remain above the political fray while ensuring the nation's fiscal sanity.
Lincoln saw it quite differently, instead believing that the Treasury -- and every other department -- should be run by someone who was highly capable of the job, regardless of their ambitions, political viewpoints, or personal relationships with the president.
Lincoln boldly appointed Samuel Chase to the lead the United States Treasury. Lincoln did this despite Chase's well-known political ambitions, and his thinly-veiled efforts to undermine Lincoln for his own political gain.
The same pattern can be seen in Lincoln's appointment to what was then known as the War Department. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rarely saw eye-to-eye with Lincoln on policy matters. He was the best man for the job, however, and that was good enough for Lincoln.
At every turn, Lincoln followed a basic business philosophy: hiring capability, regardless of ideology. Business owners could learn from this example, as we often expect the ideal worker or partner to look or think a certain pre-conceived way, which blinds us to possibilities.
Rather than leading without any debate or argument, and rather than picking those who merely agree with everything we, the business owners, believe, pick a team full of rivals and strong-minded professionals who will set the business up for success. All ideas will be properly debated, vetted, and implemented -- but only if they're the best ones for the business.
A business that enjoys healthy debate among its employees and leaders is one that makes the best decisions for the entire company, rather than the best decisions for the company's owner. Out of a brief ideological struggle, a commitment to sound leadership and decision-making can emerge.
Shoulder the Blame and Share the Credit
Abraham Lincoln was well-known as the type of leader who preferred to share credit with his expert cabinet members, while also shouldering the blame of the administration's failings. In fact, he often shouldered the blame for issues that weren't entirely of his own creation.
That type of compassion and leadership is often missing in business, and it creates an adversarial environment that can be damaging to the growth of the enterprise.
Small businesses need to work as a team. That team can debate (sometimes for days on end), but they must work to create goodwill at the end of the day (and individual team members cannot be blamed for problems). When everyone feels good about their coworkers, and about how their ideas are being integrated into the growing company's policies, they're more motivated to do the best job they can.
Additionally, happy employees and executives are more loyal in their positions -- preferring to stick with a business through the good and bad times, as opposed to jumping ship to a competitor or starting their own company.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe."
Lincoln knew that before you can achieve success, you must prepare. You must know where you want to go and what you want to achieve, and then create the plan to achieve it.
Have a Commitment to Leadership
Above all else, what Abraham Lincoln showed during his time in office was a commitment to excellent leadership. It takes a very strong individual, and a very capable manager, to hire a team of rivals. After all, a lesser man or woman would find themselves overwhelmed and entirely too stressed by constant debate over company policies.
Lincoln, however, thrived on the discussion. Discussing his views was something he enjoyed; conflicting ideas helped him moderate his own views and policies, allowing him to best enact policies for the majority of a war-torn nation.
In today's business climate, it's all too easy to get wrapped up in a self-centered drive for success, especially for small business owners working mostly alone. But when that motivation is expanded to a larger team, and their conflicting viewpoints are brought in as part of the company's policies, the whole organization stands a better chance of making sound decisions.
With shared credit, proper planning, the right employees (who don't always agree with you), and an understanding leader (You!), your business can grow carefully and strategically, making strong tactical moves that set it up for more sales and profits, and continuous growth.