Great Leaders Recognize Talent ...

In 2005, award-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin published the book, “Team of Rivals.” Her subtitle for the book was “The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” This is a book that St. Francis students will be familiar with by the time they leave our hallowed halls.

In short, this 944-page volume provides a detailed look into our nation’s greatest crisis in history and how its leader, President Lincoln, had the courage to look beyond his personal career security to the talent of others to make sure the United States of America survived.

Lincoln did this by appointing three of his greatest political rivals to the highest positions in his own cabinet as secretaries for state, treasury, and war and a fourth rival as the nation’s attorney general.

And – to be clear — not one of them had any appreciation for Lincoln at all. Each of them disdained Lincoln as less intelligent, less trained, and less worthy of the presidency then they.

In fact, even in their appointed posts they grumbled about and made fun of Lincoln publically and they even attempted to undermine his authority on several occasions. He was aware of all of this but kept them in their posts.

The appointed men were so opposed to Lincoln as a leader that Chicago Tribune editor, Joseph Medill, was compelled to later ask Lincoln why he had made the appointments.

We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet,” Lincoln replied. “These were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”

Good leaders recognize talent, and they have the courage to use that talent — for the benefit of others.

Interestingly, three of the four men became staunch supporters of Lincoln over time. Two became close confidants. The fourth never changed his mind about Lincoln and resigned after Lincoln’s first term. Following this, Lincoln appointed him as Chief Justice to the United States Supreme Court.

At a time of crisis like the Civil War, most men would want to surround themselves with trusted advisors. Instead, President Lincoln’s vision for his cabinet was evidence that he practiced what he preached, “If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.”

Lincoln knew his rivals had talent. They could do the job well, and he gave them a chance. Even at risk to his career. Thank God he had such courage. If not, we might not be living here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.