What Healthcare Leaders Can Learn From Lincoln

In a recent post on athenahealth's Leadership Forum, Nancy Koehn, PhD, a faculty member at Harvard Business School, discusses what leadership lessons healthcare leaders can take away from President Abraham Lincoln and his successful struggle to end the Civil War and abolish slavery.

Steve Spielberg's new movie "Lincoln," follows President Lincoln's journey toward this end during the last few months of his presidency. In her post, Dr. Koehn says these few months provide some powerful lessons on leadership. Specifically, she explains, Lincoln's success can be attributed to a few key characteristics that, even today, offer powerful leadership lessons. 

  • Forbearance. Throughout his life, Dr. Koehn explains, Lincoln learned the importance of not acting rashly on emotions. Instead, he learned that "he must forbear such expression in the interest of bigger, more important objectives."
  • Listening. In order to understand the "range of opinions, perspectives and insights" surrounding complicated issues, Lincoln learned to listen to others before making decisions — a lesson that is valuable to any leader today.
  • Understanding the power of his decisions. Finally, Dr. Koehn says Lincoln understood "his own significance on a larger stage." For healthcare leaders, this translates to an understanding of the impact your decisions may have on others. As a result, it's important to not take decision making lightly, keeping in mind that "nine times out of ten, the most immediate action that comes to mind is not the best one," writes Dr. Koehn.

More Articles on Leadership:

Dealing With Resistance to Change Through Questions, Not Demands
How to Create a Culture of Innovation
5 Steps to Gaining Buy-in for a Hospital's Vision


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