Next came the Patent laws. These began in England in 1624; and, in this country, with the adoption of our constitution. Before then [these?], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.  ~ Abraham Lincoln, “Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions.”

As we honor our past leaders this Presidents today, It is especially noteworthy that Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of technology in society.  He is the only U.S. president to hold a patent (No. 6469, granted May 22, 1849).  The patent was for a device to lift riverboats over shoals.

lincolninventor.jpgJason Emerson, author of Lincoln the Inventor, noted that the 16th president was as much a product of an American age of invention and expansion as war and slavery.  He was intensely inquisitive and was said to have come across  “a machine or invention or scientific idea that he did not stop to investigate, both physically and mentally.”  According to Emerson, “He not only created his own invention but had ideas for other inventions, such as an agricultural steam plow and a naval steam ram, [and] was fascinated by patent cases as an attorney and also by new innovations during the Civil War.”

More importantly,  Lincoln changed the face of modern warfare though his use of the telegraph. The book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War“, notes that when Lincoln took office the White House had no telegraph connection.  According to author Tom Wheeler, Lincoln “developed the modern electronic leadership model” in 1862 when he began using the telegraph to give orders for troop movements.

Lincoln moved the hub of the telegraph network from Army headquarters to the civilian-run War Department next to the White House.  Lincoln was then able to receive unfiltered messages.  He used the telegraph to monitor progress in the war and to use the information to his advantage and Lincoln personally sent out 1,000 telegrams during the course of the Civil War.

teamrivals.jpgBut Lincoln offers much more than an example of how a great leader embraces technology.  Leadership comes from embracing all of the elements necessary to grasp the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable.  If you want to look at Lincoln as a leader, Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” provides great lessons that leaders — and wannabe leaders — should strive to grasp.

Lincoln’s leadership genius is found in his ability to to draw assistance from any source, including political rivals.  His cabinet was full of his opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860, including William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase (an Ohioan), and Edward Bates. Anyone wanting to guide an organization through tough times will need to surround him or herself with those who do not always think the same.  This means embracing rivals as they may be in the best position to point out the flaws we so easily ignore.

Only those who have the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, regardless of stance, can one lead the way in times of crisis.

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