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Real Leaders

Learn from Abraham Lincoln and the power of emotional discipline

In 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote a scathing letter to his top Union general, who had squandered a chance to end the Civil War. Then Lincoln folded it up and tucked it away in his desk. He never sent it. Lincoln understood that the first action that comes to mind is often counter-productive. In the third episode of a four-part special series on leadership, HBR Editor in Chief Adi Ignatius and Harvard Business School professor and historian Nancy Koehn explore Lincoln’s career both before and during America’s greatest crisis. They discover lessons on how to learn continuously, communicate values, and exercise emotional self-control.

ADI IGNATIUS: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Adi Ignatius. This is “Real Leaders,” a special series examining the lives of some of the world’s most compelling and effective leaders, past and present, and the lessons they offer today. In our first two episodes we profiled the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and then writer and environmentalist Rachel Carson. This week, Abraham Lincoln.

NANCY KOEHN: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

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