Lincoln could easily lionize himself (the Confederacy had just been dispatched at Gettysburg) and minimize Grant. Instead, he wrote Grant: "I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. … I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. … I now wish to make this personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong."
The last sentence is genius: simple, direct and heartfelt. As McPherson astutely writes, "from the moment [Lincoln] wrote this letter, [he and Grant] began to forge the partnership that would win the war." Real and heartfelt candor. Try it.
No. 4: Demonstrate moral leadership. The legal department's boss needs to show moral leadership. As he or she leads, others follow. Lincoln did not put the Emancipation Proclamation up for a vote. He conceived it, he wrote it and he pushed it through.
A forgotten show of Lincoln's moral leadership is set out in Von Drehle's book. In 1862, there was a Sioux uprising in Minnesota. A military court tried and convicted more than 300 Sioux warriors of massacring civilians. The sentences: death by hanging. Lincoln intervened and, befitting a great lawyer, he personally reviewed each file, sifted through the evidence and winnowed the list of the condemned to 38. There was a political uproar, but Lincoln was unmoved: "I could not hang men for votes."
Want to know more? Read 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg. The GC's takeaway: Doing the right thing matters, even if no reward follows.
No. 5: Manage anger. Lincoln's phrase in his first inaugural address "the better angels of our nature" implicitly recognizes the Shakespearean truth that each person is saint and sinner. And he acted on that understanding.
Lincoln was enraged at General George Meade for failing to pursue and crush Confederate General Robert E. Lee after Gettysburg. It was a bum rap. Meade's army, while victorious, was likewise shredded and in no shape for an organized pursuit. Lincoln's letter to Meade was heartless, blaming Meade for an indefinite continuation of the war. But Meade never received the letter, because Lincoln tossed it in his desk drawer. He could always place an event in context.
As Lincoln wrote in a July 28, 1862, letter to Cuthbert Bullitt, and republished in The New York Times, "I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing."
No. 6: Accept advice. A famous writer once accused his editor of killing his little darlings. It's a funny line, but that sentiment comes from a convulsive ego. Leaders need to learn to keep their egos in check.
While the Emancipation Proclamation was, in all respects, Lincoln's little darling, it was not sacrosanct. He freely accepted a key word change from Secretary of State William H. Seward. Lincoln wrote that the federal government would recognize the freedom of former slaves. Seward suggested the powerful phrase "recognize and maintain." Freedom was not just to be given, but enforced. Seeing its wisdom, Lincoln scratched it in, filling a gaping hole. Listen to others. We already know what we think; we need to learn from others' insights.