Joe’s Journal: On Leadership, Lincoln and Integrity

“What would I look for in picking a leader of an institution? First, I would look at what the candidates have done, what their strengths are . . .. Second, I would look at the institution and ask: ‘What is the one immediate key challenge?’ I would try to match the strength with the needs.

Then I would look for integrity. A leader sets an example, especially a strong leader. Many years ago I learned from a very wise old man… I asked him: ‘What do you look for?’ And he said: ‘I always ask myself, would I want one of my sons to work under that person?’ This, I think, is the ultimate question.”

–Peter F. Drucker

This question of leadership has been especially important to me as we have worked on our new book, Drucker’s Lost Art of Management. One chapter is titled “Leadership as a Liberal Art,” and we put President Lincoln through a Peter Drucker lens. All of these issues came up: strengths, immediate challenges and integrity.

When Lincoln picked the key appointments to his cabinet, William Seward as Secretary of State, Salmon Chase as Secretary of Defense, Edwin Stanton (after one year of Cameron) as Secretary of War and Edward Bates as Attorney General, he picked three direct rivals for the Presidency and one fierce political opponent (Stanton). Why? The nation was in a crisis with the Civil War beginning and he needed the very best talent available in order to meet the challenges, especially given his lack of executive experience. Each of these four men possessed great strengths for the positions they were assigned. Each performed admirably although not without friction. He needed Chase although his integrity was questionable. Lincoln ultimately fired him when he no longer needed his talents at Treasury only to appoint him Chief Justice because Chase was a strong abolitionist, and Lincoln knew he would uphold all the anti-slavery legislation of his administration, including the 13th Amendment.  Plus he thought Chase had “Presidential fever” and would be cured once appointed Chief Justice.

[EXPAND More]Yet when it came to appointing generals to go up against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, he seemed to fumble all over the place. I suspect it was because once Lee refused the job and decided to go with the opposition, Lincoln had to wait for U.S. Grant to mature before he found a general who was Lee’s equal.

There’s a difference between the processes that Lincoln had to use when he was looking for generals and the ones we might see in place now in well-managed organizations that have a human resource function where succession planning is well-developed. In this kind of an environment Drucker’s rules work and should be followed whenever possible. As to integrity, there is an incident I will never forget when a man who had spent his entire working life in a company shared with me that he was against his daughter taking a job in a particular unit of that same company because he did not want his daughter working for that manager. That is the integrity test!

— Joe Maciariello[/EXPAND]