Match Personalities to Roles to Create Success

03 Jun


Abraham Lincoln was versed in reading the personalities of others, so he knew exactly which buttons to push to get them to help him achieve their goals.

Immediately after his election in 1860, Lincoln knew that he wanted to place the other four contenders for the Republican nomination in his cabinet to help unite the party and at least the Northern part of the nation.

And William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Simon Cameron all wanted a place in Lincoln’s cabinet, except that each had their own ideas about exactly which position in the cabinet they would accept.

Furthermore, Seward wanted to help Lincoln choose members of the cabinet, and he definitely didn’t want Chase in it.

And Chase didn’t want Seward in it.

This situation was complicated by the fact that no President since Andrew Jackson (nine Presidents before) had served two full terms, so 1864 was looked upon by especially Seward and Chase as a second chance to be President  – they wanted to be in a prominent national position when the time came.

Lincoln had his own ideas about which people should go where, and he didn’t want Seward’s help, so he kept the ambitious New York senator in waiting by telling Seward that he wanted him in the cabinet – he just wasn’t sure where to put him.

This was borderline offensive to Seward, who felt he deserved the prestigious Secretary of State position.

In Seward’s mind, the position was rightfully his since he had met with the kings and queens of Europe (he was the only one with “world” experience), he had been the Republican front-runner going into the 1860 convention, and he had campaigned vigorously for Lincoln in the East.

Chase didn’t want to share the cabinet with the more conservative Seward, and he also wanted the State Department job, as well as help Lincoln fill more positions with “radical” abolitionist Republicans.

Cameron, in the meantime, expected a high-ranking position because he had given his delegates to Lincoln at the Republican Convention after an “understanding” was reached with Lincoln’s people.

Bates didn’t care as much where in the cabinet he landed as long as he was next in line for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Things got stickier when Lincoln let it slip in a private letter to Cameron that he was considering offering him the job of Secretary of the Treasury, which Cameron wasted no time boasting about to the press.

However, when allegations started coming out about financial misappropriations in Pennsylvania possibly involving Cameron, it was very apparent that the Senator would not be suitable for the Treasury Department.

Knowing that the high strung ambition of Seward and Chase would allow them to be kept in waiting, Lincoln was able to take the time to gently talk the prideful Cameron out of Treasury by convincing him that the War Department would a better fit for him.

Meanwhile, Seward had sent a delegation of his supporters to Lincoln to pressure him to keep Chase out of the cabinet, but Lincoln responded by saying that he would give Seward the ministry to Great Britain if it was so the case that he and Chase could not work together.

Lincoln knew that Seward’s pride would cause him to reject the lower position; what Lincoln didn’t expect was the letter that followed asking him to withdraw Seward’s name from nomination to a cabinet position.

In response, Lincoln appealed to Seward’s pride yet again with a letter telling Seward how his country was in great need of his talents at that crucial time.

Seward then withdrew his withdrawal, released all pressure on Lincoln, and would eventually be named Secretary of State after Lincoln bagged Chase.

Lincoln then sent Chase’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Secretary of the Treasury – without Chase’s knowledge.

Knowing that Chase would puff up with pride when his Senate colleagues came to congratulate him on his surprise confirmation, Lincoln waited for Chase to come see him directly from Capitol Hill.

When Chase arrived, the two met for hours while Lincoln soothed his ruffled feathers, and told him why he thought Chase would make such a great Secretary of the Treasury, as well as why it would be such a big embarrassment to both of them if he turned Lincoln down.

Lincoln was then able to send in Seward’s name for confirmation as Secretary of State.

He got the cabinet he wanted by using to his advantage the ambition and pride of the people wanting to get into it.

The Results?

  • Seward was able to keep Great Britain and France from getting involved in the Civil War.
  • Chase’s Wall Street connections and financial acumen allowed the Union to pay for the war.
  • Bates’ legal abilities enforced Lincoln’s controversial war policies.
  • Cameron eventually resigned under charges of corruption, paving the way for the much more adept Edwin Stanton.

The Lesson?

Attracting talent to the right job is a lot like attracting flies; you only have to use a little honey.  Some flies will come under any circumstances (like Cameron) – those are the ones who will usually get swatted first, so try to avoid them.  You decide the conditions under which they come to you.  Read personalities carefully to help you maneuver people into the situation you want.

For more help on dealing with workplace personalities, visit “Can’t we all just get along? Understanding 6 workplace personalities,” by Shari Frisinger at


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