My beloved wife is always telling me, less is more.  She is naturally reserved, a Canadian by birth.  I am a Texan in spirit and in verbal propensity.


President Lincoln and Gen. McClellan

There are times when I use language and words to approach the unapproachable.  She is more reserved, more cautious.  Rarely does she allow her words to overload her intent.  I am in constant search of balance.  In my approach, there is a natural tension.

This natural tension also is frequently found in leadership, the  modesty of speech and action versus an ego-centered drive and belief that title and rank bestows moral authority that everyone will accept. “I am the CEO, therefore I know what is right, all other indicators to the contrary.”

If only that were true. 

Good leaders check their ego and pride at the front door in the spirit of getting the job done.  Abraham Lincoln demonstrated modesty of speech and action throughout his presidency which, in the end, made him one of America’s greatest leaders.

During the early stages of the war between the states, Lincoln was frustrated by his General-in-Chief of the Union Army, George McClellan.  General McClellan seemed reticent to engage General Robert E. Lee’s  Confederate forces despite his superior numerical advantage. Lincoln reportedly said, “I gave him an army but he won’t use it.” 

One evening President Lincoln and his personal secretary, John Hay, paid a visit to the general’s home to discuss this issue.  They were greeted at the door by the general’s butler and ushered into the living room.  The butler then went upstairs to tell the general that the President of the United States was waiting.

After a 45-minute wait, the butler returned to inform the President that the general had decided to retire for the night and would meet with the President another day.

Mr. Hay asked the President if he were outraged, if he was going to fire the general? No, President Lincoln reportedly replied, I am just trying to get the job done — I am just trying  to get him to be a better general.

President Lincoln did not let his pride, his personal ego, or his status get in the way of accomplishing his goal — to subdue the confederacy and preserve the union.

As I travel across the country, I sometimes encounter hospital CEOs with Lincoln’s approach.  Regrettably though, there are far too many hospital executives who are more concerned with exerting their will, their egos, in a misguided effort to succeed.

Over the years, I have learned from hundreds of interviews with outstanding CEOs that less really is more.

Hospitals are facing the most perilous of times.  These times demand leadership that is more about getting the job done and less about personal ego, personal aggrandizement. 

If you are a CEO or senior executive who believes or acts as if it is all about your incredible point of view or your amazing talent, perhaps you should pause and think about President Lincoln.

He got the job done.