Team of Rivals – Call 1 questions

I look forward to starting our reading of “Team of Rivals” in just less than a month.

Call #1
Wednesday, June 13
8pm new york time
Dial-in #: 1-800-615-2900 (Toll Free in USA and Canada)
pass code: [email Ramona at Creative Good dot com to get the pass code]

For our first call, I have put together the following questions to guide your reading.

Call #1 Questions
Chapters 1-5 (pages 1-169)

1. The book opens on the eve of the Republican party convention in Chicago in 1860. A dominant theme in these early pages – and expanded on later – is Lincoln’s ability to forge “an unusually loyal circle of friends.” How important to leadership is the ability to develop friends and work with rivals? Goodwin notes that the mid-nineteenth century American culture supported and allowed for close male friendships. It seems that that culture has changed and while American society today is more open in some regards, it does not seem to support the same kind of intense male friendships that were common among the young frontier generation of Lincoln’s time. Do these cultural changes hurt men’s ability to lead today, and, perhaps, help women who do not suffer the same restrictions on their friendships? Think about Lincoln’s ability to create strong friendships, the role the culture of his time played in that, and the challenges men and women have as leaders today.

2. What did you learn about Lincoln’s childhood that you didn’t already know? What was surprising or memorable about his childhood? How was his upbringing different from that of his rivals?How do you think his childhood experiences impacted his development as a leader? How were the conditions all “the rivals” faced similar or different from growing up in America of the 21st century?

3. What was the role of storytelling and reading in Lincoln’s life? How did his reading habit contribute to his ability to learn and lead? “…in an age when speech-making prowess was central to political success…Lincoln’s stirring oratory had earned the admiration of a far-flung audience…” (page 9). “It was through literature that he was able to transcend his surroundings.” (page 51). Given the advent of mass communications, including the internet, what application do reading and storytelling have to developing leaders today?

4. Lincoln had a simple platform in the 1840s: “a national bank, a protective tariff, and a system for internal improvements.” (page 90). Was Lincoln’s ability to simplify to the important issues – likely informed by his storytelling skills – a critical part of his leadership ability? Do all successful leaders need to know how to focus on the most important issues? What’s the difference between simplification and “dumbing down.” Is there a difference? Do today’s political leaders simplify like Lincoln did? Or in a different way?

5. Doris Kearns Goodwin disputes the idea that Lincoln was constantly depressed but she also recounts a period of severe depression (page 98). Lincoln experienced political defeat, his friend Speed returned to Kentucky and he was distraught. What seemed to pull Lincoln out of the depression? Is his commitment to his “legacy” (or “long-term ego”) healthy? Is it necessary for a leader to want to leave a legacy? Is that a necessary part of leadership?

6. Coming out of his depression, Lincoln speaks to a temperance society in Springfield, Illinois (page 100). What’s important about this speech and how Lincoln handles it?

7. Consider Lincoln’s first and only term as a senator in Washington. He opposed the war and paid a short-term political price for it. Perhaps it was a mistake or perhaps it was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, he eventually was elected as president. What can we learn from how he handled his one term in Washington? How in general did Lincoln handle setbacks and slights throughout his career?

After each call I will email you with the chapter specific questions for the next call. These questions set the agenda of our discussion and address valuable nuggets within the text. At some point I will approach you, in advance, and ask you to help introduce the the ideas that the question addresses during the next call.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me.


Chapter Breakdown:

Call #1: 6/13
Chapters 1-5 (pages 1-169) 169 pages total

Call # 2: 7/11
Chapters 6 -11 (pages 170-319) 149 pages total

Call # 3: 8/8
Chapters 12-15 (pages 321-423) 102 pages total

Call # 4: 9/19
Chapters 16-19 (pages 425-521) 96 pages total

Call # 5: 10/24
Chapters 20-22 (pages 522-596) 74 pages total
Also please read Pericles’ Funeral Oration from “Thucydides,” about 7 pages total
The text can be found at:
Wikipedia entry:

Call # 6: 11/14
Chapters 23-26 (pages 597-749) 152 pages total
Meta Questions:

Lincoln’s leadership style can be described as a managed tension between collaboration and sticking to his guns on key principals and decisions. What can we learn from this balance that can be applied today as managers attempt to bring change to their organizations? What are the lessons and stories from Lincoln that give us ideas on how to work differently?

Does lincoln have an ego? if yes, how does he manage it? would it be relevant to say that he subverted his short-term ego in order to serve his long-term ego? If so what can we learn from him in the day-to-day management of our own egos?

Lincoln was the original council member – i.e. he knew how to ask for help not only from peers, but from rivals. Not only did he build a “team of rivals,” but he also knew how to ask from help from the great books, history and from his customers, the citizens, especially the common citizens of the then-still-young republic. As council members what can you learn from Lincoln that can help you develop as leaders and improve your own “asking for help discipline?”

Buy or borrow the book:

20. May 2007 by readingodysseyauthor
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