Issue 93

“Achievement is an act of the will.”
Gene Griessman, Ph.D. Editor

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
“I found out that it’s not good to talk about my troubles. Eighty percent of the people who hear them don’t care and the other twenty
percent are glad you’re having them.”
— Tommy Lasorda, (Baseball player and long-time manager of the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers; inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997; born 1927)

“If you have spent two years in bed trying to wiggle your big toe, everything else seems easy.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President; 1882-1945; Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921.)

“One ship sails East, and another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.”
–-Ella Wheeler Wilcox (American author and poet; 1850-1919)

“There are no endings. They are all beginnings.”
–Hilary Mantel (British novelist; author of two of my favorite novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up The Bodies,” both of which won the Booker Prize)

The More You Know, The More You Know You Don’t Know
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
— Sir Isaac Newton (English mathematician, physicist, and scientist; Newton has been described as “the single most important contributor to the development of modern science.1642 – 1727)

One-Sentence Summary of the Lincoln Presidency
“I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me.”
(In this letter to William H. Seward, written at one of the darkest times in his presidency, Lincoln reveals the one trait that he believed was the one quality necessary for success: “Your own resolution to succeed.”)

Discretion Is The Better Part
“There can be too much truth in any relationship.”
–Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham in “Downton Abbey” (Maggie Smith)

The Magic Formula
“Brilliant people with brilliant ideas exist all the time. It’s just a question of being a brilliant person with a brilliant idea at the right time in the right place where people want what you come up with.” –Leslie Berlin (American historian who now teaches at Williams College)

Taking Risks
Show me somebody who’s had a great deal of success and I’ll show you somebody who’s taken risks. Show me somebody who’s taken risks I’ll show you somebody who’s experienced failure. –Gene Griessman

“The worst thing is to be a dilettante. a dabbler, an amateur, someone who simply skims the surface of life without commitment.”
–John Huston, from the memoir by Angelica Houston excerpted in Vanity Fair November 2013; (American film director, screenwriter and actor 1906 -1987. I interviewed Huston for my TV show “Up Close in 1982.)

“Art should be like a holiday: something to give a man the opportunity to see things differently and to change his point of view.”
–Paul Klee. (German-Swiss painter who taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design, and architecture: 1879-1940)

“Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down and beat you with experience.” Anonymous

One-Sentence Summary of the Lincoln Presidency
“I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me.”
(In this 1862 letter to Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln reveals his resolve, a quality that he believed was “more important than any other one thing.)

On April 22nd Dr. Griessman will give a presentation on Lincoln’s leadership style to Professor Hitendra Wadhwa’s class “Personal Leadership and Success, the most popular class on leadership at Columbia Professor Wadhwa is founder of the Institute for Personal Leadership which offers training in personal leadership to executives worldwide through an online executive education program in collaboration with Columbia Business School.

My most recent book “Lincoln and Obama” which was published in 2013 just won the gold (current affairs) and the silver (history) awards in the 2013 Global Ebook competition.
It’s currently available in Kindle and Nook editions; hardcover and paperback versions can be purchased at Amazon, B&N, and at

The controversy over Robert Gates’ new book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” has raised important questions about how presidents should deal with the military. I have not read Gates’ book, so I should not comment on it. But I have been asked to comment on how Lincoln dealt with his generals and admirals and other military advisors.

Lincoln’s first Secretary of War (now called the Secretary of Defense) was Simon Cameron, who proved to be incompetent and notoriously crooked. Lincoln exiled him to a diplomatic post in Russia. His second Secretary of War was the ill-tempered but honest and efficient Edwin M. Stanton, with whom Lincoln worked closely until his assassination. Stanton was present when Lincoln expired and famously said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Relations between the Lincoln White House and the military were uneven. Lincoln greatly admired some of his military men–like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Porter, and Farragut–and gave them an almost free hand in military matters. But he regarded others as unreliable, prone to exaggeration, lacking in judgment and courage. He criticized their ideas and ignored their recommendations.
Many military leaders regarded Lincoln as a meddler, incompetent, soft-hearted, and a blabber of sensitive intelligence. General George McClellan, in letters to his wife, called Lincoln a “baboon” and an “idiot.” He believed that politicians (Remember, Lincoln was a politician.) were leading the country to disaster. He strongly urged Lincoln not to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln paid absolutely no attention to his advice, and eventually fired him.

Was Lincoln within his rights to do this? Absolutely. The founding fathers made it clear that civilians (i.e. politicians) would control the military, and not the other way around.

In 1775 Congress established 69 Articles of War, which includes these words, “Any officer or soldier who shall use contemptuous or disrespectful words against the President of the United States, against the vice president thereof, against Congress of the United States…shall be cashiered or otherwise punished as a courts-martial shall direct; if a noncommissioned officer or soldier, he shall suffer such punishment shall be inflicted on him by the sentence of the court-martial.” (The basic concepts of the Articles of War were incorporated within the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951.)

The idea that politicians should just get out of the way is a commonly held belief, but it is not what the founding founders intended. And it certainly did not happen in the Lincoln White House.

Most Americans would be stunned to know that General George McClellan, Lincoln’s top general during the first part of the Civil War, was prodded by his supporters to march his huge army toward Washington, stage a Napoleon-like coup, and install a dictatorship. We now know McClellan seriously considered the idea after he repulsed Robert E. Lee’s army at Antietam. McClellan was talked out of it by several influential people, including one member of Lincoln’s cabinet. But it was a close call for the United States.

We also know that General Joseph Hooker, who subsequently became Lincoln’s top general in the field, talked openly about a dictatorship. In fact, when Lincoln appointed Hooker to command the army, Lincoln let him know that he knew:
“I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”

After that letter from Lincoln, there seems never to have been a peep about a dictator.

Bottom line. There were fierce debates in the Lincoln White House about how to conduct the War and who should do it. When Lincoln moved General Grant into the top position, he explicitly ordered Grant not to make political pronouncements. Lincoln insisted that he held the right to make political decisions, and he would entrust them to no other.

(I discuss this topic in greater detail in “Lincoln And Obama” pp. 111-116. There’s an excellent 2012 book on the subject: Richard Slotkin’s excellent “The Long Road to Antietam: How The Civil War Became A Revolution.” Beautifully written. Careful attention to the historical record. It contains one shocking revelation after another!)
Here’s a powerful phrase you can use to describe a task that’s difficult or impossible
Steve Karnacki, then a senior writer at who now has his own show on MSBC, was a guest on a national TV show. When Karnacki was asked to comment on a dilemma that a prominent politician faced, he replied: “That’s a needle he can’t thread.”

How can you use this expression yourself? You can use it verbatim if you’re describing an impossible situation, either that of another person or your own. If it’s another’s situation, use it the way Karniacki used it. If it’s your own situation, you can say: “That needle is going to be hard for me to thread” or, “I may have trouble threading that needle.”


Presentations in Buffalo, NY
“Impressed by the beauty of Pres. Lincoln’s intelligence and how it is so relevant countless generations later. Terrific! –-Brett Costello, CEO, US Airports
“I am a big fan of Lincoln and today’s program reminded me why. –Mark Lakniak President, Excelsus Solutions
“The presentation was intimate, warm, personal and friendly. Very practical and great depth. A great way to learn. Looking forward to reading your book. –Ken Hale, Dansville Dental.
“Liked the seamless way the lessons from Lincoln were expressed in stories. The presentation is unique and powerful!
–David Powe, Partner and lead consultant.
“There is so much to read on the Internet these days, but one thing I will never miss reading is your great Achievement Digest. Inspiration!” –Art Bauer (Art Bauer is an award-winning film producer.)
“This (Issue No. 92) was an excellent, exhilarating and liberating issue. Especially love Lincoln’s quote regarding the Internet. Brilliant sarcasm!”
–-Mike Stewart (Mike Stewart is a professional speaker and corporate coach, and author of “Close More Sales! Persuasion Skills That Boost Your Selling Power;” 480-883-3008)