Corporate Leadership Development Tips: Abraham Lincoln Says “Get Out of Your Email”


Abraham Lincoln led by walking around. That seems like a basic concept easily understood but much harder to practice. Perhaps this technique of leadership was necessitated by the lack of technology in Lincoln’s day however there are valuable tenets to this mantra. This was something I learned during my days as a Navy SEAL and these principles of corporate leadership development can be easily applied to you as well.

We live in a very complex world and it seems the only way to keep up is utilizing your technology. Emails are getting far too invasive in our work lives. It never stops and if you choose to let it, can take up all your bandwidth. You all have all seen what I am talkinga about. A manager who constantly sends multiple emails when a 2-minute conversation could have done the trick. They often observe from their Ivory Tower and only see snapshots through their subjective lens.

The alternative is the leader who you constantly see around the office learning the real “ground truth”. These leaders may pop into your office to hear about your challenges and offer effective real time solutions or considerations. They want to establish more personal buy-in and do so by effectively communicating and collaborating.

President Lincoln would often visit his Union Generals in the field to find out what was really happening. He was not there to dictate battlefield tactics, or in our terms, micromanage. He knew, in order to be effective, he had to communicate and collaborate with his leadership. These trips were not easy and took a toll on him but he understood the need to observe rather than learn through correspondence. Lincoln understood the importance of executing his vision with his “team” and was able to achieve this through effective communication and collaboration.

I saw these two differences in my 1st two operational Commanding Officers at my SEAL Team. When I first arrived as a ‘new guy”, we had a leader who was very much removed from the day-to-day. He sat back behind his desk and tended to all the administrative issues that would pop-up at a SEAL Team. We rarely saw him out at PT (physical training) and I never saw him when we were doing any sort of real-world training. He was minimally effective, communicative, and even less respected by other leaders I worked with daily. We are talking about a SEAL Commander and he was not looked favorably upon? Are you kidding me? This was a leader for one of the best fighting forces in the world and he was “minimally effective”? Yes, this environment can exist in our world too. We were getting complacent due to his lack of collaboration and involvement. We were not involved in his decision making and rarely communicated with. We were struggling. He was not a bad guy nor incompetent but his leadership style didn’t match the expectations of those around him. We needed more from our leader.

After a year, we had a change of command and we were presented with a different sort of Commanding Officer. This Commander was VERY involved. He was at PT daily, which may not seem like much to most people but to SEALs, this was important. He was leading by example. Our new CO even was jumping (skydiving) with us – which nearly killed 5 of us but that’s a story for another time. The work environment changed dramatically as well. We were executing more operationally focused training and our capabilities were climbing sharply. He listened to our issues and through collaborating with us, changed much of the training cycle. By involving himself in our day-to-day, he saw what needed to change rather than just hearing about it. He expressed his plan with us and helped point us in a new direction, a direction we had a part in collaboratively developing. Our morale skyrocketed and this was all due to the change in leadership style. Years later, this SEAL Team is still benefiting from the change in leadership, increase in effective communication, and collaborative focus.

For a number of months last year, I was embedded with a company that was an industry leader. They were seen as very capable and had performed well for years but they reached an impasse. Looking for ways to improve execution, Afterburner was brought in to help align their teams, instill accountability, and focus on iterative innovation. We achieved this by focusing on improvements in communication and collaboration. With a clear strategy communicated to the team and a collaboratively developed plan which help the team accountable, we were able to see immediate positive results.

Corporate Leadership Development Programs Give You the Tools You Need

So many companies talk about wanting to improve their communication and collaboration however over communication via emails is not the solution. These only add to Task Saturation® (the perception or reality of too much to do and not enough time, tools, or resources to achieve success) and will actually serve to distract or confuse your teams. These teams live in a complex environment and we all know the only way to combat complexity is with simplicity. We all deal with complexity in our business lives and we need to slow down and look for the simple solution.

Rather than press send on another email which articulates the direction you want, get up and speak with that individual, or that team, or even that organization directly. You will be surprised how effective your organization can be when you are able to clearly articulate the direction you want your organization to go.

President Lincoln’s hands on leadership approach, leadership by walking around – increased communication and collaboration and led to the Union victory in the Civil War. My new Commanding Officer recognized the need to get out from behind his desk and lead by example. By opening the door to communicate and collaborate with us to achieve his vision, we are still seeing positive results today. As a leader, get out from behind your desk and your email to see what can be learned from the ground leaders of your organization.

If President Lincoln was with us today, my guess is you would get an out of office reply every time you emailed him. If you’re interested in a corporate leadership development program, please contact us today!