TEACHING TODAY’S LEADERS:
WHY THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS STILL RESONATES
For more than 30 years, business and government managers have come to our leadership classes to study Lincoln as a role model for challenging times. They come to Gettysburg hoping to learn how to cope with continuous change, difficult employees, communications confusion, and dwindling commitment by staff.
Rather than lecture to them, we provide a resource book of Lincoln’s speeches and letters and then challenge them to understand what drove him through difficult times. I should point out that most of our workshop participants are not history buffs, but they attend because this 3-day course in Gettysburg might be fun.
In small group discussion, they examine Lincoln’s words, looking for common themes as a clue to Lincoln’s values. It does not take long for them to recognize Lincoln’s profound admiration for the Founding Fathers and what they created. For instance, in this 1838 speech, a 28-year-old Lincoln addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois about what the Founding Fathers meant.
Here is a young Lincoln asking his listeners to step up to their responsibility to perpetuate that democratic creation of the Founding Fathers.
Our students follow Lincoln’s career through his words—from the 1854 Kansas Nebraska Act, which brought him back to politics, through the Lincoln-Douglas debates, to his election to the presidency.
Here they see clearly his vision of our nation’s place in history (what he called “the last best hope of earth” in 1862). This democracy is, he declared, and it must remain, a model for the rest of the world. It is our responsibility to maintain it.
How does Lincoln’s vision translate into action? After all, our students came to gain tools for today’s workplace. They follow Lincoln’s managerial challenges in selecting his Cabinet and building an army. They see his razor-sharp focus on the bigger issues that must be addressed. He must have people who agree with his mission to save the Union and our democracy.
Our lesson? Help people see that the smaller issues fade in the light of a higher purpose. Give people a sense of mission, of the importance of their part in preserving something so important, and you can capture their commitment. We tie these concepts from Lincoln’s experiences to the students’ own workplace issues.
We walk the battlefield, and then come back to class to discuss how battlefield actions are also driven by one’s values and mission. It is each leader’s job to focus people and help them stay committed. Like Lincoln, these “middle managers” on the battlefield had the same task of inspiring people to step up to their roles in saving the organization.
Returning to Lincoln after our battlefield discussion, we review how Lincoln continuously articulated his mission and vision—through letters, speeches, meetings with the public, with Congress, with the military. Lincoln always reminded the listeners of the purpose of the war. Thus, when he arrived in Gettysburg in November 1863, he already had a theme, a driving purpose for his words, and he took one more opportunity to share his vision with the world. His message was not new, his words would echo the values he lived by and used to drive his administration through a terrible war.
Our classes frequently end with a reading of the Gettysburg Address. After studying Lincoln’s values, his challenges, and his determination to help others see his vision for the nation, our students find the Gettysburg Address incredibly moving. It is his vision once again, but in a concise, clear language that touches us all. The theme is not new, as students now realize. It is a passionate plea to yet another audience to take responsibility to keep our democracy safe.
Lincoln’s words are as relevant today as they were in 1863, and they will be carried into the workplace with a new depth of understanding of the man who first uttered them.
LINCOLN’S PROCLAMATION OF THANKSGIVING
In the fall of 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father... to heal the wounds of the nation."
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union