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3 Leadership Lessons From Abraham Lincoln

2. Honest Abe holds true.

President Lincoln might best be known for his integrity and willingness to do the right thing even if it was difficult or unpopular.

"Recognizing the role he had in the government and the sensitive and the compartmentalization with the U.S. government at that time, unless he had that reputation, I don't think anything he accomplished would have been accomplished ... which is of course is why I think he is the most celebrated president in U.S. history," says Chad Oakley, President and COO at Charles Aris.

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"There are a lot of people who perhaps, even though they know something is incorrect or wrong as opposed to choosing to manage that conflict, they will choose simply to not engage, whereas Lincoln chose to engage," he adds.

It's a reason why he garnered so much respect, even if it did make him unpopular at times.

"Literally just yesterday I dealt with this," Oakley said last week. "A long-term client of Charles Aris called to kick off a brand new search. When compensation came up -- and this just happens to be a type of talent we know very well -- what they wanted to pay was not realistic. It would have been very easy for us to say 'no problem,' knowing full well we can't do it ... instead we said 'this is not going to happen; let's talk about alternatives now as opposed to later.'"

Oakley says while the firm lost money in the short term, he hopes it will be worthwhile for the long-term relationship. "That's how Lincoln approached life -- integrity and never taking the short path so that when you really do need to go to the mat with a client, they will listen and value that guidance much more so," he says.

3. He picked strong team members.

"Lincoln embraced other strong-minded individuals for his Cabinet and many of them were his political adversaries, which is unusual," says Mike Starich, president of Orion International. "For me, it's a lesson learned recently: You have to have others on your team who are not afraid to challenge you" or at least feel comfortable enough to express their opinion (stopping short of insubordination), he says.

"The collective wisdom of your subordinates is often more important than your own wisdom. And I think Lincoln knew that too. He picked strong people to stand up to him or at least to coach him in a way that made him better," Starich says.

And while Lincoln gave a good bit of slack to his generals to succeed on their own, he also wasn't afraid to remove underperformers. A common story is in the battle of Gettysburg, where the North kept failing at trying to win the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va. But after each setback, Lincoln kept removing generals until one -- Ulysses S. Grant -- won the battle in 1865.

"He did not let any personal relationships interfere with his goals," Starich says. "I've seen myself and my managers hang on to people that were marginal players ... for fear of being the bad guy or hopes for improved performance. Give them a chance but don't give them too much rope."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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