I've read the book 4 times now and it gets better with each new perusal. I was hoping to begin talking to some other folks about just how amazing a story it is, darn it. Maybe we can get some folks to participate in this discussion - it sure would be fun!
This is the best biography I have ever read for several reasons. It is meticulously well researched for beginners and the research is applied to the text in an informative and intriguing way, making the primary sources relevant and powerful. The format of discussing one individual by discussing those that surrounded him is a huge leap forward in biography because so much context is gained. It is much more than a focus on one life, but becomes a more encompassing study of the era. Kudos to D K Goodwin. She can't win enough awards for this masterpiece.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, an enormously readable biography of Abraham Lincoln, is also a seminal treatise on leadership and a must-read for all who lead or aspire to do so. By way of numerous examples the book highlights four essential leadership characteristics: a balance of confidence and humility; command of one's ego; an intuitive and intimate understanding of others; and the ability to engage people emotionally in order to influence them. Leadership experts have long debated whether leaders are born or made. The answer is both with the emphasis on developed. Certain innate qualities must be present but development through a combination of life experience, self-reflection, and insight is critical. The title of this book references Lincoln's cabinet, a team of men who are rivals to each other and to the president himself. This assembly is no accident on Lincoln's part and speaks to his confidence, humility and intuitive sense of what needs to be done. These same qualities underlie his ambition to lead and his ability to be granted the opportunity to do. As he announces his candidacy for state legislature Lincoln declares, " `Every man has his particular ambition. I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.' " Lincoln is confident in his abilities and knows he must use them wisely to earn the right, privilege and responsibility to lead. What enables Lincoln to envision and create a team from a collection of rivals each one of whom is more educated, more experienced, and more well known than the president? His psychological structure includes a chief executive officer of sorts who keeps the vision in mind and oversees all the parts of Lincoln's personality, conducting them to do what is called for at all times. This CEO manages Lincoln's ego such that his talents serve something far greater than his Self and enables far reaching achievements. This is likely the most highly evolved of Lincoln's personal attributes, and in too short supply among leaders across all sectors in the current era as illustrated by the often heard phrase, "His ego gets in the way." Lincoln intuits an intimate knowledge of others such that he understands how to influence them to do what is needed, but how? This master chess player of human psychology is equipped with extraordinary empathy. Goodwin describes Lincoln's capacity to put himself in an-other's shoes, to feel what they are feeling and thereby to understand their motives and desires as an "enormous asset to his political career. " Helen Nicolay, whose father was Lincoln's private secretary refers to this asset as " `His crowning gift of political diagnosis ...which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.' " She recalls a caucus during which Lincoln listens to his colleagues at length, then rises up, throws off his shawl and pronounces, " `From your talk, I gather the Democrats will do so and so' " [therefore] " `I should do so and so to checkmate them,' and then proceeded to outline all the moves for days ahead; making them so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves." Goodwin quotes Lincoln's thoughts on influence " `Penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who lead him.' In order to `win a man to your cause' you must first reach his heart, `the great high road to his reason.' " Lincoln understands he must engage people emotionally. His ability to do so rests once again in his profound sense of empathy along with his gift for story-telling. Through empathy Lincoln intuits others' emotional landscape and by appealing to this inner world moves them to do what is called for. He is also a captivating story teller who creates emotional partnerships by drawing people into his world or a vision for a change he seeks to create. Kearns references one of Lincoln's colleagues who describes this magical appeal. " `Several wrinkles would diverge from the inner corners of his eyes, and extend down and diagonally across his nose, his eyes would Sparkle, all terminating in an unrestrained Laugh in which every one present wiling or unwilling were compelled to take part.' This rapid illumination of Lincoln's features in conversation would be observed by countless others throughout his entire life, drawing many into his orbit." In his attempts to bridge the gap between those on opposing sides of an issue, Lincoln again employs an empathic stance. Rather than disparage either side he senses and articulates their humanity. This is how he crosses the divide between north and south regarding slavery. " 'They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up...I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.' " Lincoln does not further polarize the sides by identifying one as good and the other as evil. Instead he brings them together by illuminating the humanity common to both. Few leaders are called upon to achieve the enormity of what Lincoln accomplished in such difficult circumstances and with so much at stake. But all can learn more about transformational leadership by reading this compelling and insightful book. Those of you who lead can gain even more by reflecting getting feedback and coaching on your own humility and self-confidence; ego commander, understanding and engagement of others.
Dr. Anne Perschel Leadership Psychologist germaneconsulting.com
I just started reading the book. One of the things I observed is that you had to be a good story teller and a good orator to run for President back in those days. And just like Doris Goodwin said, the spoken word ( and if I might add, the written word )was so important.
It's also interesting to read how the lawyers in Illinois made their living by being part of the 'circuit' and the bonds between them that ensued.
It's also interesting to me how the lawyers as they went from town to town on this 'circuit,' and how in holding court, it was a great spectacle and almost a form of entertainment for the villagers.
I do not know of any other book that is written on the subject, or period, then this one that can compare. If you know of one please tell us. The details of the lives of the people, and the dealing with the pressures of the day come out in this book with great detail and inform. This book shows how Lincoln should be known as the greatest President to serve our nation by far. The odds of what he achieved in his life are as to a mule winning the Kentucky Derby.