Lessons from the Life of Abraham Lincoln II

The second lesson that I take from thinking through the life of Abraham Lincoln is:

The Big Picture is the Most Important

The professor, Allen Guelzo, says that Lincoln had a “coup de l’oeil,” which I would explain as an ability to focus on the big picture.  The North, after some initial minor victories, faced setback after setback in the war; Stonewall Jackson rolling up the Union army flank at Chancellorsville; the loss of the Second Battle of Bull Run; General McClellan’s endless dithering and astonishing ability to overestimate the numbers that opposed his army; holding the field at Antietam, but with unthinkable casualties; the machinations of cabinet members (Seward, Chase, etc.) behind his back; it was enough problems to make even the strongest leader into a mass of quivering jelly.  How did Lincoln handle all this?

He had an amazing ability to focus on and understand the big picture.  Despite the many setbacks, Lincoln kept a list of the overall picture that was positive in the long run.  Total troop strength in the North always outnumbered the South, and by a large margin.  The Union owned the high seas.  The Union owned most of the manufacturing capability, and on and on it went.  The big picture never looked completely bleak, despite temporary setbacks.  Lincoln was almost alone at understanding this, and that was part of his genius.  He could see what other men could not see.

It is of vital importance, no matter what one is doing, to not get completely distracted by the worry or setback of the moment.  The broader picture is of ultimate importance, no matter what seems important at the time.  If you don’t have a genius at doing this; find someone that does.  One person who sees the big picture, is of more importance than 20 engineers who are caught up in solving the problem of the day.

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