Though management has been my life’s work, I have never written in this column about it. A recent purchase of the subject of President Lincoln’s management motivated me to write on some areas of agreement between us on this matter.

Though management has been my life’s work, I have never written in this column about it. A recent purchase of the subject of President Lincoln’s management motivated me to write on some areas of agreement between us on this matter.

Management Education

Beyond a few years of home schooling in reading, writing, and ciphering by his mothers, Lincoln was self-educated. But, as Harvard philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, the purpose of education is not to become learned but to be learning. His collected wisdom is far better than anything I ever learned from books or professors.

That came home to me one morning in August 1965 when I sat at my desk and realized that I had scores of patients and over a hundred employees subject to my sketchy knowledge of management. I had been taught ‘normative’ principles of what managers ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to do like the Ten Commandments in the Bible. Turned out they hired me from my position of Instructor at OBU precisely because of moral problems the hospital was then experiencing. [A policeman was having a liaison with a nurse’s aide in the prayer room on the night shift, and the Administrator was alleged to be dinking around.]

When I began classes in a Ph.D. program of the University of Michigan in 1968 I wasn’t able to use much of what I had learned about management at OU because they taught normative ‘principles’ of what managers should d and U of M taught descriptive management of what managers actually did. Whether college lectures or Sunday sermons, a clear distinction should be made between normative and descriptive language. [That description is needed when interpreting “Be ye perfect.” Mt.5:48] Years later I was interviewed for Chairman of the Program in Health Services Management at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. I was considered for the position because I was a published researcher at U of M and they wanted to get their faculty involved in research. I told them that to do research, they would need to hire researchers. I wasn’t hired.

Lincoln and I had to learn most management by experience. But, as one social psychology author wrote, knowing about ‘one’ is not knowing about ‘one AND one.’ Anecdotes may provide fine illustrations of truths experienced by a few but only scientific samples or censuses can properly characterize a population. That is why there is a distinction made between the academic disciples of psychology [psychiatry], social psychology, and sociology. Experience, empirical descriptions are the best teachers properly done.

Leadership [1]

The motto of infantry platoon leaders’ is, “Follow me.” It is exactly what followers do and they learn about it through an amazingly efficient informal communication network among employees [word-of-mouth, e-mails, tweets, and texts] .Be sure that whatever No.1 does is known by all before quitting time. If his or her behavior is below generally-accepted community moral standards the boss’s reputation, esteem, and moral authority is irrevocably diminished. It becomes almost impossible from then on for the leader to reasonably expect from his followers more than he has demanded of himself. The Bible places great emphasis on judging by deeds.

Every school child learned about Lincoln’s honesty in walking 8 miles one night after his store closed to return a few pennies he had shortchanged some customer. His honesty was so legendary he is referred to as “Honest Abe.” His business partner drank himself to death leaving Abe owning $1100—an amount so large then that he referred to it as the ‘national debt.’ Like young Harry Truman after him, Abe paid a paid a partner’s debt rather than declare bankruptcy.

“All the theories and guidelines fall apart without honesty and integrity. It is the keystone that holds an organization together. Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique. Through an individual’s words, deeds, and actions, integrity can be judged to be genuine. It is the leader’s role to lift followers out of their everyday selves up to a higher level of awareness, motivation, and commitment. The form and substance of government’s leading object is to elevate the condition of men…to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life.”[1]

“Lincoln always did the right thing, or at least he attempted to do so. He was the type of person you would like to be like…one who could be trusted, that had integrity. He practiced what he preached—displaying the highest possible level of morality “ [1]

“By today’s standards, the moniker, “Honest Abe might be considered pretentious, even contrived. But, the fact is that leaders who tell their subordinates the truth, even when the news is bad, gain greater respect and support for ideas than their less virtuous counterparts. Truth is a common denominator for all interactions among any group.” [1]

Leading an organization is only one role enacted by a leader, and it is foolhardy for a leader to expect followers to employ different standards in judging how one handles those roles. One of Lincoln’s principles was, “You must be consistently fair and decent, in both the business and the personal side of life.” [1]

[1]Phillips, Donald T., “Lincoln On Leadership, NY: Warner Books, 1992, pp51-56.