The irony of Lincoln’s inspiration for entrepreneurs

It’s been 209 years since the birth of one of the most famous people in history. It’s very likely that people in every developed country on the planet have heard the name Abraham Lincoln, even if they don’t know why.

As the 16th president of the United States of America, it’s generally accepted that Lincoln’s leadership genius made possible the ultimate resolution of one of the greatest conflicts in human history, the American Civil War. And as harsh, prolonged and contentious as that post-war “Reconstruction” was, it resulted in the successful reassembly of the United States, sans slavery. So when you combine all of this with the blessing that the re-United States became to the world for the past century and a half, it isn’t a leap of logic to recognize Lincoln as one of the top two or three individuals in the history of Western Civilization.

As a leader, Lincoln was a risk-taker. So his story is especially important for a special group of contemporary risk-takers, small business owners. Every day along the ownership continuum, from startup to locking up for the last time, Main Street businesses can draw strength and inspiration from the uncomplicated, honest and fierce witness of Lincoln’s character and leadership.

But ironically, as much as Lincoln’s accomplishments put him on a lofty pedestal, it’s his hard times that have also inspired generations of both leaders and followers. Indeed, when you consider just a partial list of painful personal tragedy and loss, plus numerous professional setbacks and failures through which Lincoln persevered, enormous respect and admiration can be the only result. For example:

• He failed in business in 1831 and again in 1833.
• He was defeated for state legislator in 1832.
• His fiancee died in 1835.
• He had a nervous breakdown in 1836.
• He ran for Congress in 1843 and ’48; lost both races.
• He ran for the Senate in 1855 and ’59; lost both races.
• He ran for Vice President in 1856 and lost.
• His wife, Mary Todd, was emotionally unstable.
• He buried two of his four beloved sons.
• He was elected President in 1860 as America’s house divided and dissolved into “a great civil war”.

Reading this list, one is overwhelmed in at least two ways:

1. Sadness - that any one person would experience so many unfortunate things;

2. Admiration - that in the face of such adversity, anyone could recover to accomplish so much.

As 2018 unfolds, if you’re ever tempted to whine because the marketplace licked the red off your candy, go back and reread Lincoln’s failures and setbacks. This time you might feel two other emotions:

1. Shame - that you allowed yourself to lapse into a self-involved pity party;

2. Renewed perseverance – now realizing that, like Lincoln, as long as you’re alive, every new day you show up to work on your business and life could be the day you turn the corner and win the war.
Lincoln taught us that the difference between bold accomplishment and painful setback is often the courage, character, and diligence to persevere.

Write this on a rock … There is no better model of courage, character, and perseverance than Abraham Lincoln. Let his life –the good and the unfortunate – inspire yours. And who knows? It might lead you to inspire others.

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