Lincoln’s Staff Meetings Demonstrated the Good and the Bad

23 Jun


On the one hand, Abraham Lincoln did what a good manager should have done before the advent of email.  He asked for feedback and collaboration on how best to execute a decision he had already made, and he only called cabinet meetings when he felt they were needed.

(Though some cabinet members were irked that meetings were not regularly scheduled, this was not really a major problem since they often did visit with Lincoln alone.)

On the other hand, cabinet members who were not Secretary of State William Seward tended to hate these meetings.  Often, Lincoln would spend much of the time off to the side with Seward, discussing other matters.  These private conversations with Seward during the cabinet meetings lead to serious jealousy, especially from Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase.

So, Chase spread a rumor to his friends in Congress that Seward was controlling Lincoln.

However, when an informal Senate committee investigated the allegations, the cabinet backed Seward – and even Chase said it wasn’t true!


Cabinet members came to recognize that there were two levels among equals in the cabinet:  Seward and everyone else.  Members eventually accepted it (Chase most reluctantly) because Lincoln was such a good manager in many other aspects.

What are your opinions on meetings?

The Results:

  • Individually, Lincoln’s cabinet members were very effective at their jobs, and had the full support of the President.
  • Lincoln’s open-door policy allowed them to visit the President at will and vice versa, so there was rarely lack of communication.
  • Lincoln’s main concerns were the war, foreign policy, and the economy; and there was plenty of communication between himself and War Secretary Edwin Stanton, Seward, and Chase.

The Lesson:

Meetings that don’t involve an opinion from everyone are often a waste of subordinates’ time.  Communicate in writing or individually to address specific concerns and feedback.  When it’s necessary to collaborate or brainstorm, bring in only the people concerned.  Otherwise, leave them alone and let them be productive.


Should I Call a Meeting? An Infographic…

The Sad Truth About Most Meetings

Security for Your People Means Support for You


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