Lincoln and discovering commonality

I recently gave a Tedx talk on our country’s need for a new narrative (link here) and the three underlying qualities we see in successful cities we work with are civility, humility, and commonality.

When I think of commonality, I continue to go back to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, a biography of Abraham Lincoln. This biography focuses on the unique structure of Lincoln’s cabinet and how almost all of them at one point or another opposed him in a political election.

Yet, Lincoln knew the inherit power and intellect of each of his rivals, and instead of kicking them to the curb, he did just the opposite and made them his team to lead our nation through the Civil War.

It wasn’t always easy. There were power grabs and jostling within the ranks, but Lincoln always had a knack for keeping one eye on what was happening amongst his core team while always navigating what was happening nationally.

Goodwin writes, “[Lincoln’s] success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources.”

It is easy to identify differences in each other, it takes time and effort to discover commonality.

And the reality is, we will never be able to collaborate with others if we are never able to see past what we disagree on.

On the other hand, if we can find commonality and focus on what we do agree on, we can plant the seed of relationship that over time can grow, mature and produce fruit that actually accomplishes something useful and beneficial in the places we live. We discover collaboration is possible, even if those we are working with don’t check all of the seemingly right boxes for us.

Discovering commonality is merely the beginning of the relationship. Lincoln is a classic example of what a great leader does over time after commonality is established. Lincoln eventually won over the hearts and minds of his cabinet, the former political foes recognized the greatness of the President they served under and changed their tune. His humility and service to his men under him created a leader that they all would end up willingly follow through many dark days.

“This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing.”

Lincoln had his own flaws, no doubt. However, few can look at him and not marvel at what he was able to accomplish during his term as president. Though Lincoln did many things well, his greatest accomplishment as a leader might very well have been his ability to discover commonality amongst a group of strong willed men and rally them around a virtuous cause.

What cause are you fighting for?

Who do you need to discover commonality with in order to better achieve your goals?