Thursday, April 25, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

“I get knocked down…But I get up again…You're never going to keep me down.” 
- Abraham Lincoln

By Mark Adamson, Vice President, Douglas Dynamics, LLC
Alright, maybe I’m stretching credit for that quote a bit. You probably better know the above words from Tubthumping, a song by a band called Chumbawamba. But then again, we don’t know that Honest Abe didn’t say it, as his life certainly emulated the spirit behind the words. But before we talk about Mr. Lincoln’s perseverance, let’s talk about modern day heroes in our industry who make a living out of overcoming obstacles.

Once again, Fisher, Western, and Blizzard Snowplows has the pleasure of sponsoring the CEO of the Year Award. As a member of SIMA for over a decade, we have enjoyed long-term friendships with some of the most amazing business professionals. While it does take perseverance to take Mother Nature head on in the most extreme conditions, that is just the business we choose; a CEO also has to be concerned with the business of running a business. It comes with its own obstacles like a struggling economy, increasing fuel and health care costs, shrinking workforce talent, and competition...all unrelated to the weather.  

So, needless to say, a few failures along the way are expected. We never look forward to them, but in hindsight, we CAN cherish them. Not only do they test our mettle and separate the quitters from the achievers, they also teach us valuable lessons. Thomas Edison, an American Inventor who, singly or jointly, held a world record 1,093 patents, was allegedly quoted as saying “I never failed, I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.”

But this blog is not about Thomas Edison. It is about the inspiration that Abraham Lincoln has provided me, and no doubt millions of others, long after his passing. I’m not sure when in my childhood I verbally affirmed Lincoln as my favorite president, but it was before I was 7 years old. That is the year we had to dress up as our favorite president for class (and no, you will not have the benefit of a photo). My young inspiration may be as simple as the proximity of our birthdays; I was born on February 13th between Valentine’s day and Lincoln's birthday. 

However, my true admiration and pursuit of learning about my hero didn’t really occur until my early teens when I was leafing through my parent’s old Reader's Digests and I discovered an article on the failures of Abraham Lincoln. I’m sure you have seen reprints of the same list, but when I saw it for the first time I was amazed at his fortitude. If you haven’t seen it before, consider this:

A common list of the failures of Abraham Lincoln (along with a few successes):
  • 1831 - Lost his job
  • 1832 - Defeated in run for Illinois State Legislature
  • 1833 - Failed in business
  • 1834 - Elected to Illinois State Legislature (success)
  • 1835 - Sweetheart died 
  • 1836 - Had nervous breakdown 
  • 1838 - Defeated in run for Illinois House Speaker 
  • 1843 - Defeated in run for nomination for U.S. Congress 
  • 1846 - Elected to Congress (success)
  • 1848 - Lost re-nomination
  • 1849 - Rejected for land officer position 
  • 1854 - Defeated in run for U.S. Senate 
  • 1856 - Defeated in run for nomination for Vice President
  • 1858 - Again defeated in run for U.S. Senate 
  • 1860 - Elected President (success)
Talk about testing your mettle…why this man did not just give in from what I call “mettle fatigue” should inspire us all. True leaders, many who would easily pass the test as CEO of the year, exist in SIMA. They have met adversity, got” knocked down”, but got “up again.” I will issue this fair warning; as I interact with many of you at future events, one of my favorite questions to ask a leader is “What is your greatest failure?” Not “biggest” failure, but “greatest” failure! It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is a question that is rarely asked, and yet defines most of us more than our successes do. The path to greatness has many bumps, do you cherish yours?

I hope to see you at the Snow Strategies Forum for the CEO of the Year Award, August 5-6, in the city where in Abraham Lincoln united and inspired a great nation...Washington DC!

SIMA’s CEO of the Year award was created to recognize leaders with many of these leadership traits, and how they reflect on the values and culture of professional snow and ice management companies. If you work with or know of someone who would be a great candidate to receive the CEO of the Year Award in 2013, please nominate them at

Mark Adamson is the Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Douglas Dynamics, LLC (Fisher Engineering, Western Products, Blizzard Snowplows).

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