19 Leadership Quotes And Lessons From Lincoln The Movie

Today, my wife and I saw the critically acclaimed movie Lincoln directed by Stephen Spielberg.  I was surprisingly disappointed.  It was not because of the acting, which is sterling.  In fact, Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones should win Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

What caused my disappointment in the movie was the horribly offensive language.  The continual use of G.D. reached the point of being uncomfortable.  That is sad.  This movie, which from a technical standpoint, is superb was just brought down to a level of wasted opportunity over something completely unnecessary.  It was so bad I have already had to advise a number of people on Twitter and Facebook to seek alternative entertainment options.

That being said, the following are the leadership principles and quotes from the movie:

  • Leaders Listen To All Levels Of The Organization – I was amazed at how often Lincoln spoke with people one-on-one.  In the opening scene, he was speaking to a number of soldiers.  Throughout the movie, Lincoln was constantly speaking with employees, congressional leaders, hospital patients, and others.  Lincoln had an incredible ability to connect with and value everyone.  It took a leader like that to pass the 13th Amendment.
  • The Genius Of Brevity And Simplicity – Part of Lincoln’s genius was that his speeches were so short and impactful.  He had a gift for clarity.  Lincoln joked, “I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I’m too lazy to stop.”  Longer does not necessarily mean better.  For all those who communicate, end of time…or even early.  No one will complain.
  • Commitment To Vision – It is a HUGE understatement to say passing of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery was historically difficult, especially during the climate of the Civil War.  It was Lincoln’s laser-focus and commitment to that vision which made the advancement of this historical initiative a reality.
  • “No is loved as much as you by the people.  Don’t waste that power.” – Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd, played by Sally Field.  Leaders leverage their influence for incredible good and positive human life-change.
  • Respect The Opposition – I admired how Lincoln did not view the opposing party as “the opposition”.  He truly respected everyone and valued their point of view, even if he disagreed with it.  I do not see that in today’s political climate on either side.  In fact, the only person who strikes me as having the dignity, moral authority, and soothing demeanor to bring opposing sides together like Lincoln is Condoleezza Rice.
  • The Use Of Humor – Good-natured humor is disarming.  Lincoln often used humor to calm situations and put others at ease.
  • “Nothing surprises you.  Perhaps that is why you’re not surprising.” – a statement to a congressional leader.
  • “Failure to prophesy is one of life’s less profitable professions.” – Lincoln on the law profession.
  • “It’s difficult for you to know that and how important it is for you to know it.” – Lincoln’s wife to Thaddeus Stevens, played by Jones, on Lincoln’s popularity and the importance of him helping pass Lincoln’s legislative agenda.
  • “The compass points you true north but does not warn you of obstacles and swamps along the way.” – Lincoln on flexibility and strategic planning.
  • “My trust in him is marrow deep.” – Lincoln on Ulysses Grant.  Great leaders surround themselves with people they can trust.
  • “I don’t want to hang a boy for being frightened.  What good would it be for him.” – Lincoln’s reconciliatory language on pardoning a Southern soldier.
  • Leaders Are Readers – Lincoln was not what we would call well-educated but he was well-learned.  He was constantly connecting with people because of books he had read.  This led to his quote, “Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”
  • “Can we choose to be born? Are we fitted to the times we’re born into? We begin with equality, that’s the origin isn’t it? That’s justice. See we’ve shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere.” – Lincoln
  • Leaders Spend Time Alone To Think – As the vote for the 13th Amendment approached, Lincoln often retreated to isolation to think and gain proper perspective. 
  • “I’m Commander-In-Chief and you are not enlisting.” – Lincoln to his oldest son Robert.  Sometimes leaders must exercise the authority their position allows.
  • “Slavery troubled me in a way that never troubled my father.” – I understand that statement.
  • “I am the President of the United States.  Clothed in immense power.  You will procure me these votes.”
  • Great Teams – For anything significant to happen, leaders need a great team around them.  Passage of this amendment would have never happened without the support leadership of Stevens, Preston Blair, and a team of lobbyists. 

Once again, incredible acting, one of the most important stories in human history, and all stained and over-shadowed by excessive offensive language.  As a leader it makes me wonder, is there something in my personal behavior that overshadows all the good I may be doing?

Finally, though not in the movie, the following are two of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes:

  • When asked about eliminating his enemies, Lincoln replied, “Don’t I do that when I make them my friend?”
  • “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

If you see the movie, I would like to hear your thoughts.

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About briand@injoystewardship.com

6 Responses to “19 Leadership Quotes And Lessons From Lincoln The Movie”

  1. Sherri on 18/11/2012 #

    I saw it with Richard & was also offended by the use of GD and the F bomb! Was that even a word in 1865? Hollywood will have to give an account when The “Holy One” returns. All great leadership points nonetheless. Abe was an honest man. Honestly a great leader of his time.

    • briandodd on 18/11/2012 #


      Thank you for your comments. I feel the same way. I may be wrong but my thoughts are they had a fear of God in the 1800’s. Disappointing.


  2. Jordan Rath on 21/11/2012 #

    I love this synopsis of leadership qualities, it is very interesting.

    Although, I think you are far too hung up on the language. It was completely appropriate for the time period (and yes the F-bomb was around by then, it has been around for centuries in fact). It certainly didnt deteriorate the movie, at least not in my opinion.

    Anyways, feel free to check out my review:


    • briandodd on 23/11/2012 #


      Thanks for your thoughts. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion of the subject of bad language. I just find it unnecessary, distracting, and highly offensive.

      From an artistic standpoint however, it is an incredible movie.

      Thanks again and enjoy your weekend,

  3. Robert on 27/11/2012 #


    I really appreciated your review. Although Jordan may be right about the existence of those words, Lincoln was more mild mannered and god-fearing than that. I think the movie accurately represented his overall character, but missed the mark on the language. A man of that stature and reverence would not throw around GD the way the movie did. Overall, and excellent film. I enjoyed your review.

  4. Spencer on 30/11/2012 #

    Wow…this was an excellent movie and I as little as I see current New Releases, I can’t say I am immune to language but I really did not hear much at all. I know I heard the F-word at least once but I don’t recall G-D at all.
    I would not put the language of this movie as a reason to not see it. Please take part in this historical reflection of our country

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