A Leadership Story: 3 Styles of Leadership

A great president and a great leadership story - what can we learn from Abraham Lincoln's leadership style?

A great president and a great leadership story - what can we learn from Abraham Lincoln's leadership style?

Participants in the Executive Leadership Forum - a series of workshops providing mindful leadership training - will already be familiar with this leadership story about Abraham Lincoln, but it is worth sharing here as well …

"During the American Civil War, an exhausted young sentry fell asleep while on watch – an offense that was punishable by death. His desperate mother broke into President Lincoln’s bedroom as he slept, to plead her son’s case."

Can you guess how Lincoln responded:

  1. Did he demand that security take the woman away immediately? How dare she disturb his sleep – didn’t she realise that he was the President and deserved the utmost respect?

  2. Did he allow her to share her story and beg for her son’s life, before explaining that rules are there for a reason, and therefore he couldn’t help?

  3. Did he listen to the woman, before granting the son a full pardon?

It is said that Lincoln acted as per number 3. This story is a great example of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style – he was the type of leader who treated each individual as THE most important person at that point in time.

As such, Lincoln was always looking for opportunities to help his staff and soldiers to learn and develop. Although he would have been perfectly justified in sending the young soldier to his death, he showed empathy and compassion, because he realised that sometimes it is okay to ignore the rules if it is for the greater good. Lincoln realised that the young soldier couldn't learn or develop from the experience, if he was executed! And, can you imagine how grateful the family was - if he didn't have it before, by his clemency Lincoln would have earned their eternal trust, respect and allegiance.

The Three Knights of Leadership

This leadership story about Lincoln demonstrates a truly aspirational leadership model – he is a “Black Knight”.

The Black Knight leader is people-oriented, and leads by serving. Characterised by humility and grace, this is a leader who understands the value of relationships, and the power of being vulnerable and authentic.

Lincoln is just one of many Black Knights we have seen throughout history. Other examples might include Dr Wayne Dyer, Florence Nightingale, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa.

The White Knight leader is task-oriented. While this type of leader may listen with empathy and respect, they are bureaucratic and bound by the rules. A list of White Knight leaders might include Barack Obama, John F Kennedy, and Anita Roddick (founder of the Body Shop).

The Red Knight Leader is self-oriented. Although the individual may be incredibly charismatic, their leadership style is essentially autocratic. There's very little consulting or collaboration with others, as this type of leader prefers to have control. Donald Trump is most likely a Red Knight leader, as was Margaret Thatcher (consider her nickname: the Iron Lady). 

If you are looking for mindful leadership training to help you manage with purpose, I invite you to consider joining the next cohort of the Executive Leadership Forum, with new programs commencing on Brisbane and the Gold Coast throughout the year.

Janet Camilleri