Lincoln the PrinterThis past week, the United States celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, as well as President’s Day. As I was getting ready to write this blog, I wondered if there was anything we could learn from past presidents on running or owning a print company. As I read more into the life and strategies of Abraham Lincoln, I found that much of his daily life could be used as an example for printer owners. Here is why.

Abraham Lincoln had less leadership experience than previous presidents. George Washington and Andrew Jackson were generals, some had been governors, and the Southerners owned plantations. Yet Lincoln filled the office of president so effectively that he regularly tops historians’ ranking of great presidents.

Which of his principles of action can guide you as a print owner?

Cite precedent. Ever the lawyer, he found precedents and men he could look up to in America’s founding fathers. His career was a long effort to show that his positions were those of the founding fathers, especially when it came to slavery, human nature, liberty and equality. As an owner, you too can cite precedent. Read the blogs of industry experts. Consult with your peers. Join a LinkedIn group of print professionals. Learn what the successful people do, and make an effort to integrate similar principles into your print shop.

Make your case. Lincoln could play inside baseball, says biographer Richard Brookhiser. He could make deals and manipulate colleagues when he had to. He recognized that democracies are not ruled by such maneuvers but by the people. Lincoln once said, “Public opinion in this country is everything.” It depends on wooing, shaping and educating public opinion. Use this to motivate you in your communications and interactions with your employees. Realize that they are people that also need to be wooed, shaped and educated in order to do their job most effectively for you and the company.

Use Humor. He often used jokes to distract people he knew he couldn’t satisfy immediately. His humor worked on a deeper level to keep things in proportion, reminding people that they shouldn’t be surprised at the unexpected, but carry on, jauntily if possible. This tip can be used in sales, employee relations and communicating with vendors/partners. Sometimes humor can be disruptive, which if time correctly can be positive. It gets people to step back and take themselves momentarily out of the situation so that clearer thinking can prevail.

Put principles first. His position against slavery was well established. In 1860, he ended the Cooper Union Address with this appeal to fellow Republicans: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in the faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Nothing can be more important when running your company, than being a person of principles and integrity. In this age of transparency, prospects, customers and even employees can see or feel if an owner/manager is not authentic. Be a woman or man of principle, and make sure you consistently back it up.

Be inclusive. The Republican Party, formed in 1854-56, included longtime abolitionists, Whigs, Democrats, and Know Nothings, who disliked both slavery and immigrants. Some called his cabinet the “Team of Rivals.” Don’t be afraid to get the thoughts an opinions of all of your team members. Nothing can be more empowering than asking one of your bindery or shipping employees what they may think of a new equipment purchase, or how to integrate a new client into the workflow of the shop. It builds teamwork, trust and fosters efficiency.

In his 1854 Peoria speech, Lincoln said, “Stand with anybody that stands with RIGHT. Stand with him while he’s RIGHT and part with him when he goes wrong.”

It worked for Lincoln and might work for you.