“A leader who has passion emanates strength and hope, a sense of being grounded in something important. That invites belief in both the goal and the leader and brings out our best efforts.”[i] —Erika Andersen, Leading So People Will Follow
A soldier once wrote of a visit by Lincoln:
“His benignant smile as he passed on was a real reflection of his honest, kindly heart; but deeper, under the surface of that marked and not all uncomely face, were the unmistakable signs of care and anxiety.”[ii]
Those who knew Lincoln were often shocked at the change in his appearance during his years in the White House.
The many wrinkles, drawn-in cheeks, and weight loss that developed were in fact signs that the Civil War had taken a great toll on Lincoln – which made his people love him even more.
His subordinates, even the controversial General George McClellan, never doubted for a moment his passion for the cause.
As mild-mannered as Lincoln was, he rarely showed extreme emotions in writing, public speaking, or in conversation; almost always exuding calm and even-temper.
Passion takes on strange forms when looking at it from the outside.
In some, it looks like emotional swings; in others, it’s hyperactivity; in Lincoln’s case, it was changes in his physical appearance.
Occasionally, though, evident passion would come out at well timed moments to motivate his people.
Such was the case a little over a month after the war started when Lincoln’s cabinet and aides were very worried that the new President was in over his head.
One day while staring out the window of his office, Lincoln told his aide John Hay that he would eventually, “go down to Charleston and pay her the little debt we are owing her.”
Hay was so happy to hear these words that he “felt like letting off an Illinois yell.”[iii]
As the leader of his country, though, Lincoln understood the need to remain collected and project hope and confidence to his people, so he dealt with his passion in healthy ways.
Between anxious hours at the War Department awaiting news from the front, Lincoln found time to play with his son Tad, go on long walks by himself, attend a public lecture, or take carriage rides with his wife Mary.
He indulged in his love for the theater and often went to plays and operas.
He also lightened his melancholy moods by visiting the troops either in the camps or the army hospitals.
Most of all, Lincoln took refuge in humor.
He loved reading that made him laugh, and he loved sharing his humor with others, no matter what the snobbish elite thought of it.
- Lincoln’s people knew that the man behind them was always looking for ways to achieve their common goal of winning the war.
- His people’s main fear was to let him down.
- Despite the toll on his physical appearance, Lincoln mostly remained healthy throughout his administration, and found sound ways to distract himself.
When you’re passionate, the people around you notice, and follow you because they will also see that the common goals are worth striving for. Just remember to take care of yourself.
[i] Andersen, Erika (2012-09-21). Leading So People Will Follow (p. 51). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.