Leadership Lessons From Washington and Lincoln

History is full of leaders, bad and good. Among those recognized as great leaders are two men honored this U.S. Presidents’ Day. How can we join their ranks?

Good leadership. There are few things in the world more important. One leader can determine the fate of thousands, if not millions, of people. 

When it comes to leadership positions, few are as undisputedly important and influential as the president of the United States. Two U.S. presidents who have made extremely powerful impacts not only on their times but on all history are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

As Americans honor these two men on Presidents’ Day, what lessons can we learn from their leadership?

Washington: a study in self-control

Many revolutions have gone astray and lost their guiding principles before completion. The American Revolution, however, was different. According to some historians, that difference was due to one man: George Washington.

Though Washington and Lincoln provide excellent examples of self-control and endurance through their leadership—the ultimate leader we should imitate is Jesus Christ Born into the Virginia aristocracy when America was a colony of Great Britain, Washington joined the army and fought for the British in the French and Indian War. When the United States began to fight for independence from Great Britain, he was selected as the leader of the newly established Continental Army. Washington led his men through disaster, despair, success and ultimately victory throughout the war.

When the war ended, Washington intended to live the rest of his life peacefully at his home in Mount Vernon. Duty called his name again, however, when the realization came that the United States government needed to be reshaped. After taking part in the Constitutional Convention, he was selected unanimously as the first president of the United States. Some tried to persuade George Washington to declare himself king—but, thankfully, he vehemently rejected the idea.

Though the idea of near unlimited power would appeal to the vanity of almost any man, George Washington had the self-control to reject this idea as an affront to everything he and his country had fought for.

Self-control was a hallmark of Washington’s leadership. Historian David McCullough wrote in his book 1776: “Washington was a man of exceptional, almost excessive self-command” (p. 64). No matter what trials he encountered, Washington kept his doubts and inner struggles to himself, thus allowing his army and his country to survive the key formative years of the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln: A study in endurance

Abraham Lincoln was a man accustomed to failure, which sounds ironic since his name is now associated with winning a war and abolishing slavery. Yet Lincoln’s track record before his presidency included a failed business, a failed attempt at a congressional seat and a failure at his famous debates with Stephen Douglas. In the midst of all these failures, however, Lincoln developed the endurance that allowed him to lead his nation through a prolonged struggle.

Many of us are depressed when we have problems with coworkers at work, or perhaps those who work under us. When Lincoln was inaugurated, almost half of his country seceded. Instead of giving up or accepting the division of America, he did what he felt was necessary and led America through a grueling four-year war to bring the southern states back into the Union.  

It may seem simple enough that Lincoln would fight the Civil War, but it was not so simple at the time. The North was extremely divided throughout the Civil War. His opponents, called the Copperheads, advocated peace with the Confederate States of America and accused Lincoln of being a tyrant.

Thanks to the endurance that Lincoln showed, the United States was reunited.

The final world leader

There is another great leader coming, one who will possess both self-control and endurance. That leader is Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ has incredible self-control. When He came to earth as a human being, He had the self-control to live His entire 33-year life without sinning (Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Since sin begins with inner temptation, Jesus had the self-control to master His mind and desires (James 1:14-15)! Exceptional self-control indeed!

Jesus Christ’s endurance is also something that we can rest assured in. Christ endured a painful and unimaginable death for our sakes (Hebrews 12:2). Christ knows what pain and suffering are, and He also knows how to endure. With Christ, we have a leader who can and will endure through the hard times—and thankfully, endure with us through our hard times (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

What type of leader will we be?

The final question is, How will we lead? In some way, shape or form we already do lead. Sociologists claim that even a shy person has an influence on 10,000 people in his or her lifetime. So, we will lead someone in some way or other.

Though Washington and Lincoln provide excellent examples of self-control and endurance through their leadership—the ultimate leader we should imitate is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)!

To learn more about leadership, read our Daily Bible Verse commentary on “The Basis of Leadership.”

About the Author

Joshua Travers

Joshua Travers

Joshua Travers grew up and lives in Athens, Ohio. He graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies and Spanish education from Ohio University. He also studied theology at Foundation Institute, Center for Biblical Education, in Allen, Texas and graduated with a certificate in biblical studies in May 2017.

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