Photo by Thomas Hawk
Abraham Lincoln walked into the heart of the Confederate Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865. Less than a day after Richmond had fallen to the Union, the President strode to the capitol building and placed his feet on Jefferson Davis’ desk.
It was a gesture that rang throughout America. The Civil War was officially over, and this President was the leader of the entire country.
If there was ever an authoritative statement in America’s short history, this was it. As the broken nation looked for unity and leadership, Lincoln proved he had both.
And it’s a perfect example for us to see what it takes to earn authority.
Don’t Play It Safe
What’s interesting about Lincoln’s trip is the size of his party that went into the city. He wasn’t in the middle of a battalion, he was with a handful of guards and advisors. An ambush by any remaining rebel forces could have easily wiped out Lincoln’s party.
It would have been easy to wait until the city was officially cleared by Union troops, but that wasn’t Lincoln’s style.
Think about how you can be daring. Daring says “I know what’s safe… let’s see if I can do the opposite.” Sure, you might fail once in a while, but you’ll have seen the edge.
“When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.” ~ D.H. Lawrence
Don’t Pay Attention to “Experts”
Lincoln’s advisors told him not to go.
Guides can be helpful for gaining perspective. But sometimes you just have to listen to your gut, even if you know you won’t be popular for it.
Nobody liked Lincoln during the Civil War. Presidents didn’t start having approval ratings until after the 1930’s, but it’s widely believed that Lincoln’s approval rating would have had one of the worst. And yet…
Lincoln is one of the most revered presidents of all time.
When he decided to personally walk into the city without an entire militia guarding him, you can bet nearly everyone with half a bit of sense tried to talk him out of it. But the President stuck to his resolve.
What’s that voice in your ear telling you not to pursue something? Is it telling you it’ll never work? It might even pass as advice…
Get Out There
Above all, Lincoln went where the people were. He didn’t stay home and make a speech behind the gates of the White House. He went to where the people needed him most. The newly emancipated slaves and supporters of the Union crowded the streets to thank the President as he made his way to the Capitol building.
Hit the pavement. Mix it up. Go where the people are talking and sharing. Blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook. Or, as crazy as this might sound, you might even need to meet people in real life.
There are tons of people surrounding you both online and off who need what you know. Go find them.
Lincoln was keenly aware of how timing would affect his journey. Had he waited a few weeks to journey into the battered city, the moment would have already passed to do something profound.
Instead, he struck while the iron was hot.
It’s easy to let things slip until later. “Tomorrow” is one of the most comforting words in the English language. But tomorrow doesn’t do anything for tomorrow. Don’t let the window close on whatever you’re working on.
Make a Statement
Lincoln knew the power of symbolism. He knew that sitting in Davis’ chair and propping his feet on Davis’ desk was a powerful statement that didn’t require any words. He didn’t need a lengthy speech to tell the nation he was in charge.
Sometimes the most profound statements are simple gestures. Being friendly to someone. Showing grace. Doing thankless work.
Our actions speak louder than words.
Do. NOT. Conform.
Abraham Lincoln was hardly what we’d call a conformist. He didn’t look, act, sound, eat or walk like a President. When long-winded orators were using thousands of words, he used 10 sentences. While everyone in the Union cried for harsh treatment of the defeated Confederates, Lincoln instructed his generals to “let ’em up easy”.
He’s still revered as one of the most-loved Presidents because he was different and didn’t conform.
So above all, don’t fall into the trap that you have to do “what works” with “proven methods”. There is no path to greatness.
In fact, the path to greatness isn’t a path at all. It’s a dense thicket waiting to be hacked through.