Team of Rivals

Abraham Lincoln

When Abraham Lincoln built his Cabinet, he included many of his rivals. William Seward at State, Edward Bates at Justice and Salmon P. Chase at Treasury– all were Lincoln’s rivals for The White House, who initially hated this new President, whose national experience amounted to only one term in the House of Representatives, some 20 years prior.

Why did he want them? He knew he needed to have the smartest person available in each area, if he was to have the best solutions possible. Lincoln knew, that as Harry Truman said, “You can accomplish anything in life, so long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Edward Bates, Attorney General; William H. Seward, Secretary of State;
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War; Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of Treasury.

Abraham Lincoln has been one of the world’s most biographied figures in all of history. Doris Kearns Goodwin has attracted a wide audience, through her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book has had such raves, it has recently been made into a movie by Steven Spielberg. From the front flap of her book–

Doris Kearns Goodwin

“That Lincoln succeeded… was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He… possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they where feeling, to understand their motives and desires. It is this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.” 

Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying And Start Living, gives this illustration of Lincoln’s humility and tact, as he surrounded himself with smarter men– regarding Edward Stanton, his Secretary of War —

Edwin Stanton

‘Suppose someone denounced you as “a damn fool”-what would you do? Get angry? Indignant? Here is what Lincoln did: Edward M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, once called Lincoln “a damn fool”. Stanton was indignant because Lincoln had been meddling in his affairs. In order to please a selfish politician, Lincoln had signed an order transferring certain regiments. Stanton not only refused to carry out Lincoln’s orders but swore that Lincoln was a damn fool for ever signing such orders. What happened? When Lincoln was told what Stanton had said, Lincoln calmly replied: “If Stanton said I was a damned fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll just step over and see for myself.”

Lincoln did go to see Stanton. Stanton convinced him that the order was wrong, and Lincoln withdrew it. Lincoln welcomed criticism when he knew it was sincere, founded on knowledge, and given in a spirit of helpfulness.’

How can we, today, implement such a strategy? Sebastian Bailey, writing for Forbes Magazine, lists six ways:

Sebastian Bailey, PhD
(Psychology and Education)

  1. Put group goals above self-interest.
  2. Introduce a common enemy.
  3. Have everyone change perspective.
  4. Encourage open mindedness and emotional stability.
  5. Give each other the benefit of the doubt.
  6. Persevere.


I’ll add more to this post as time allows. For now, here are some great links on the subject:

About jayhack2012

I help you find actionable insight.
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