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Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Leadership
Wordcount: 4055 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership


This paper is essentially a book review of Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips and highlights various principles of leadership, stories, and analogies utilized by President Abraham Lincoln and that they continue to be applicable today to modern day leadership in current law enforcement environments. Various examples of law enforcement leadership principles utilized in law enforcement society today are given throughout this paper in order to illustrate in multiple examples that Lincoln on Leadership stands the test of time providing examples of time proven leadership principles. 

Book Review: Lincoln on Leadership

The history of our nation is full of examples of great leaders who risked everything they had to shape and develop the United States of America we live in today. Everyone has their own opinions on who the greatest leader our country ever produced is, but most educated historians agree that President Abraham Lincoln, having dealt with the monumental and unprecedented problem of a literally divided nation torn apart by Civil War, and over the course of his presidency was able to utilize and implement his leadership principles discussed in Donald Phillip’s book Lincoln on Leadership to not only win the Civil War for the Union, but also free the nation’s slaves, and then go on to reunite the country makes him the greatest leader this nation has ever produced. Lincoln used his leadership principles to influence and recruit capable generals to form and lead the Union military force to victory over the Confederate military force, influence and lead Congress to rebuild the country after the Civil War, and influence and lead the very setting of the groundwork for the freedom and democracy that we are blessed to be a part of in this country to this day. Phillips illustrates in his book Lincoln on Leadership the leadership principles Lincoln used to accomplish these incredible feats, principles such as; building strong alliances, leading with honesty, integrity, and character, being decisive, influencing people through storytelling, getting out of the office, persuading rather than coercing, encouraging innovation, mastering public speaking, setting goals and being results-oriented, and never acting out of vengeance (Phillips, 1992). Phillips explains how Lincoln was a master of communication who was able to connect with people on both a personal and professional level who came from all walks of life from Congressmen to generals, and from soldiers to everyday common citizens. Lincoln was able to influence everyone he came in contact with to assist him to advance his goal of reuniting the republic and more often than not he was able to motivate them to do so without coercion and when things worked out successfully he shared the credit with them and when things did not work out he took all the responsibility for it.

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Reading about Lincoln’s leadership principles in Lincoln on Leadership brought to mind various leadership principles I have observed and experienced throughout my life both personally and professionally when people in leadership positions in my life exhibited them similarly to the way Lincoln did throughout his presidency. I will be discussing some examples of these leadership principles, stories, and analogies utilized by Lincoln while relating them to some of my personal and professional experiences, some of the leaders I admire, and how they relate to some contemporary situations in law enforcement and criminology; those influential leaders were former Jackson County Sheriff D.B. “Pete” Pope, Major M.P. Robichaux, Major R.R. McClendon, Lt. Glen Windham, Sgt. Billy Thicksten, and Sgt. Terry Dosher.

Get Out of the Office

“It is important that the people know you come among them without fear (Phillips, 1992 p. 26).”

 This leadership principle of Lincoln’s reminds me of the time I was assigned to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department Patrol Division under the leadership of my immediate supervisor Lt. Glen Windham. Lt. Windham taught me this leadership principle by his personal example on the night we responded to a fight call at the Virginia City Lounge located in Latimer, MS West Jackson County. When we arrived on the scene of this ongoing bar room brawl Lt. Windham showed no fear when he addressed the brawlers and advised them in no uncertain terms that he would start shooting them if they did not stop fighting because he was too old and give out to fight with them while he was pointing his firearm in their direction in a sweeping back and forth motion. They took him at his word and immediately stopped fighting and obeyed all of our commands from that point on. Lt. Windham was able to take charge of this extremely violent situation with just the mere threat of the next level of force on the use of force continuum and showing them no fear while he was among them. Once we had the situation under control we were able to assess that one of the people involved in the bar fight had been cut on his throat severely with a broken beer bottle and required immediate medical attention. We were able to slow the bleeding and get him the medical attention he needed from the paramedics who had also responded to the scene. If not for Lt. Glen Windhams’ implementation of the leadership principle of letting those people know he came among them without fear, and if the fight had continued out of control any longer, the man with the cut throat would have bled out and quite possibly died that night. Years later, when I had been promoted to shift sergeant at the Adult Detention Center located in Pascagoula, MS I was able to apply this principle modeled to me by Lt. Windham and model it for my subordinates when I had to deal with a potentially dangerous situation in one of the post-trail state inmate dayrooms. One night the shift sergeant who was supposed to relieve me was running late so I stayed over into his shift until he was to arrive, because his shift needed a responsible leader on site and it was departmental policy. Approximately fifteen minutes after shift change the J-John Dayroom intercom called the control room requesting to see the sergeant on duty, they believed Sgt. Ricky Rader was the sergeant on duty and did not know he was not on duty yet. I responded alone to the J-John Dayroom to see what they needed. When the electric door opened, and I stepped inside the dayroom, there was an immediate awkward tension in the entire room. I observed there were inmates on either side of the door I had just entered and every single inmate in the cell block was out in the dayroom dressed with their tennis shoes on. One of the inmates on one side of the door had a cup with a foamy liquid substance in it and an inmate on the other side of the door had a towel clenched and stretched out between both of his fists. I had walked into an ambush that fortunately for me, was not intended for me. I had developed a respect among all the inmates as a fair and reasonable shift sergeant who treated inmates fairly and did not mistreat them. This is the only reason the inmates of cell block J-John did not carry out their ambush on me. The inmates know our routines as well as we do, and they had expected Sgt. Ricky Rader to walk through the door and had planned this ambush for him. I remembered the leadership principle taught to me by Lt. Windham and I showed them no fear when I asked them what was going on and how could I help them. The respected leader of the dayroom said he would talk to me in private in his cell alone if I really wanted to know what was going on. I again showed no fear among this dayroom of inmates and the inmate and I went into his cell to talk. I decided to do this because I felt that if they wanted to harm me they would have done so when I originally walked through the door. The inmate then told me they meant me no harm and that none of them had any problems with me. He said they had had enough abuse from Sgt. Rader and some of the deputies on his shift and that they were ready to handle him and his shift and were ready to face the consequences of their doing so. I asked him to explain to me how Sgt. Rader and some of the deputies on his shift were abusing them and he told me that they keep coming in all hours of the night and harass them all night long keeping them up all night by kicking their bunks and cursing at them when they do their rounds, picking on certain inmates they have had arguments with, disrespecting them every chance they get and keeping everyone on edge their entire shift when they are on duty. I thanked the inmate for bringing this to my attention and that I would make a deal with him, if he would have his dayroom cooperate with me and everyone agree to peacefully lock down in their cells, that I would go get on the phone with Major McClendon and inform him of everything he had told me, because I was responsible for keeping the peace and ensuring the safety of both the deputies and the inmates, but if they would not agree to lockdown then I could not guarantee them that Major McClendon would not call in the Mississippi Department of Corrections Emergency Response Team to deal with them because they were state inmates and belonged to the state and we were just housing them for the state. The inmate understood what I was saying to be true and asked everyone in the dayroom to comply with my request to lock down because I was going to talk to the Major about what was going for them. The inmates of J-John cell block locked themselves down voluntarily and I went back to the control room and called major McClendon and advised him of the situation. I was able to avoid a potentially violent situation because of my character that I had established with the inmates housed at the A.D.C. and because I implemented the leadership principle modeled to me by Lt. Windham and by Lincoln utilized during his presidency that it is important that the people know you come among them without fear (Phillips, 1992 p. 26).

Build Strong Alliances

“Showing your compassionate and caring nature will aid you in forging successful relationships (Phillips, 1992 p. 37).

 Reading about this leadership principle of Lincoln’s reminds me of the lesson Sgt. Billy Thicksten taught me when he would take me on ridealongs with him at night T-Capping on Interstate 10 in Jackson County when I was in Junior College before I became a deputy sheriff with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. One cold night in winter, Sgt. Thicksten responded to a vagrant call at one of the local gas station convenience stores. When we arrived on scene Sgt. Thicksten questioned the vagrant man and determined that the vagrant man was a homeless military veteran and had no where else to go. Instead of arresting the veteran for loitering and trespassing he used officer discretion and decided instead to give the homeless veteran a ride to the Salvation Army shelter located in Pascagoula, MS. After we dropped the homeless veteran off at the shelter where he would receive a hot meal and a warm place to sleep, Sgt. Thicksten advised me to not lose sight of who I am in this job, that this job can be thankless, stressful, and that dealing with the worst of society can make us hard hearted and jaded if we aren’t careful. Sgt. Thicksten told me to always apply compassion and caring when dealing with the public, that we can arrest people without taking their dignity. He said if you can do that consistently then you will feel much happier with yourself at the end of each day. Sgt. Thicksten showing me his compassionate and caring nature that night aided him in forging a successful relationship with me. Many years later, while I was a newly promoted shift sergeant at the A.D.C. and was attempting to forge successful relationships with my new subordinates on my new shift, I had the opportunity to show them the leadership principle Sgt. Thicksten had modeled for me when I was first getting interested in working in law enforcement. When I started out in law enforcement with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department at the A.D.C. we had Lieutenants as shift supervisors and they did nothing but supervise even if it got busy and backed up they did not lift a finger to step in and assist us with the work load. I did not want to be that kind of supervisor so when things got busy I would lead by example and step in and help with the work load like booking newly arrested inmates to help when needed. On this occasion a young white female had been arrested and brought in for D.U.I. and was extremely belligerent. All the deputies on my shift were busy with their assignments or booking other inmates into the A.D.C. so I stepped up and began the booking process on this belligerent intoxicated white female who was being verbally abusive toward me. I was standing beside her asking her the booking information questions when I observed her eyes roll back in her head and she started falling over backwards. I was able to react quickly enough to catch her and prevent her from hitting her head on the concrete floor. While in this close proximity to her holding her in my arms I could smell a sweet odor on her breath and I quickly recognized she was hypoglycemic, which can happen when diabetics drink too much alcohol. I heard the female deputy on my shift who was working the control board yell out, “Nice catch, Sgt. Landry!” I immediately got on my portable radio and declared a medical emergency and requested the diabetic blood sugar testing kit from the medical cart and for someone to go to the kitchen and bring me some orange juice and sugar packets. The deputies on my shift sprang into action and quickly brought those items to me. I tested her blood sugar level and it registered forty-three. I opened her mouth and poured some orange juice in and she thankfully swallowed it. Shortly she began to come back around and was able to hold the cup of juice herself. She began to cry and apologize to me for her behavior. I showed her compassion and caring and told her she was going to be alright and that she didn’t need to apologize because I knew she was not herself at the time because she was having a medical emergency and couldn’t help it. I gained a lot of respect from my shift that day modeling my compassionate and caring nature in front of my shift, as Sgt. Thicksten had modeled for me and Lincoln modeled throughout his presidency, and it aided me in forging successful relationships with my shift.

Find Your Grant

“If employees gripe about one of your chief supervisors, and the complaints are true, do not be afraid to remove him (Phillips, 1992 p. 163).”

 While I was a deputy sheriff working for Sheriff D. B. “Pete” Pope at the A.D.C. there was an incident where Sheriff Pope had to terminate a fellow deputy on my shift. Training Officer Deputy Dennis Zinnimon was a black male deputy sheriff who had grown up in the worst part of Moss Point, MS and had overcome many obstacles to pull himself up out of a bad situation. He had graduated from Moss Point High School and was a talented football athlete who earned an athletic scholarship to college and was so good at football in college that he was drafted to the National Football League and played professional football for the Saint Louis Rams. Unfortunately, Dennis Zinnimon suffered a career ending knee injury and had to come back home to live in Moss Point, MS. T.O. Zinnimon was still an intimidating athletically built individual and was, to my knowledge, an asset to our shift dealing with violent inmate situations. Unknown to our shift, T.O. Zinnimon crossed the line and started breaking the law by bringing in drugs to sell to the inmates at the A.D.C. Confidential informants notified deputies on other shifts about what T.O. Zinnimon was doing. Those deputies passed the information on to Sheriff Pope who conducted an internal investigation and found the information to be true. Sheriff Pope had to terminate and arrest T.O. Zinnimon while he was on duty at the A.D.C. This broke my heart because I considered Dennis Zinnimon a friend who I looked up to because he had been very kind to me and had helped me to learn the ropes as a new deputy sheriff when I started working at the A.D.C. Sheriff Pope observed how upset I was over the whole situation and he took the time to talk with me about it when he really didn’t have to do that. Sheriff Pope told me that in our line of work that once someone crosses the thin blue line we have to let them go no matter how good a person they might have been before they crossed the line because we have to keep the public’s trust, that Dennis Zinnimon put us all in this position and that he was sorry but he had to not only let him go but also hold him accountable because none of us are above the law. Sheriff Pope modeled Lincoln’s leadership principle of if employees gripe about one of your chief supervisors, and the complaints are true, do not be afraid to remove him. Several years later when I was a shift sergeant at the A.D.C. I had to utilize this same leadership principle when several of the deputies on my shift reported to me that my Officer in Charge Deputy Michael Wright, who was also serving as the medical officer for my shift, was stealing inmate Lortab medication off of the medical cart. I followed the chain of command and reported this information to my supervisor Major R.R. McClendon. An internal investigation was conducted and it was determined that the accusations against O.I.C. Wright were true. Major McClendon gave me the responsibility of terminating Deputy Wright but before I was able to do so Deputy Wright resigned with no notice and promptly moved out of state. I was able to model for my shift the leadership principle modeled to me by Sheriff Pope, and modeled by Lincoln during his presidency, that if employees gripe about one of your chief supervisors, and the complaints are true, do not be afraid to remove him.

 President Lincoln was a great storyteller and used this ability to get his points across when he communicated with people from all walks of society. Lincoln chose this method of communicating his opinions because for him it was a more effective way to influence people to see things from his point of view while being less stressful than directly ordering them to do something he wanted them to do. The following three stories I have chosen to focus on relate to leadership situations in law enforcement and are still relevant today.

The Dog’s Bite

 In the fall of 1863 Lincoln had to address an issue with Capt. James M. Cutts who was fighting with and verbally abusing another one of Lincoln’s officers. Lincoln reprimanded Capt. Cutts telling him to not fight with other officers at all. The story Lincoln told Capt. Cutts pointed out that someone who was working to be their best did not have time for personal disputes. He also pointed out that he could not afford the consequences of losing his self-control. He gave the analogy that it would be better to let a dog go by than to be bitten because you thought you were justified by confronting it, because even if he killed the dog after he was bitten, it would not heal the wound from the dog bite. Lincoln knew that leadership can bring out the worst in us and we should be prepared to deal with that (Phillips, 1992 p. 82). When I was a sergeant at the A.D.C. Major R.R. McClendon would only allow ranking deputies under his command to argue with each other in his office in his presence during staff meetings held monthly because he said that ranking deputies arguing with each other in front of their subordinates was bad for morale.


 Lincoln did not like it when people who were not involved with government operations tried to tell him how he should conduct the Civil War. Instead of being harsh with them Lincoln would tell them a story to get his point across while escorting them out of his office.

One story he would tell asked them if an individual was crossing a river with all their money would they shake the rope they were using to cross the river, or pester them by yelling at them how to make each step along the way? No, you would remain silent and not touch the rope until they got safely across. The government has a lot on their shoulders that is worth a lot to everyone involved. Do not badger us and be quiet, and we will get you safely across (Phillip, 1992 p. 91). When I was a sergeant at the A.D.C. Major M.P. Robichaux would tell anyone who tried to tell him how to do his job duties of both running the day-to-day operations of the A.D.C. and being the departmental certified Senior Firearms Instructor, to be quiet and let him do his job, that if he happened to screw something up then they could fuss at him all they wanted, but until then, he wanted silence from them.

Swearing at the Right Time

Another story Lincoln liked to tell was to get people to be innovative, to solve problems by taking action on their own without being told to do it. The story was about a Colonel with troops from Missouri who decided to instruct his men they were not to swear anymore, that if swearing was necessary he would be the one to do it. They promised to follow his instructions and everyone did for a while until a teamster named John Todd got extremely frustrated with the poor condition of the muddy road they were traveling on and he let out a string of profanity. When the Colonel confronted him about breaking his promise Todd said he did promise but the time to swear was then and there or not at all, and he did it because the Colonel was not there to do it (Phillips, 1992 p.139). This story reminded me of the time when I was a patrol deputy and we kept running into a problem serving warrants. The people we were attempting to serve warrants on were home but they would not answer the door when we would knock and announce we were with the Sheriff’s Department. Our patrol shift Captain, Tony Greer instructed Sgt. Terry Dosher and me to come up with some way to serve all these warrants because they were piling up and the Judges were complaining to the Sheriff about it. Sgt. Dosher and I came up with the idea that we would take turns, one of us would go to the front door and the other would go to the back door and when the one at the front door would knock and announce we were with the Sheriff’s Department the other one would yell, “Come in!” You would be surprised how many people with warrants do not lock their doors. Capt. Greer commended us for being innovative and getting the warrants served, but that maybe we shouldn’t do that anymore.


 President Abraham Lincoln was able to accomplish the monumental tasks of winning the Civil War, freeing the nation’s slaves, and then successfully re-uniting the war-torn nation, and he also laid the groundwork for our constitutional republic way of life by successfully implementing his leadership principles that he developed over his lifetime from his vast personal experiences with people from all walks of society. Leaders in law enforcement today would be wise to study and apply the leadership principles, stories, and analogies of President Lincoln because they are every bit as applicable to leadership in law enforcement today as they were to saving our nation back then. We have too much at stake, the lives of our fellow officers as well as the lives of those we are sworn to serve and protect, to be unsuccessful leaders in law enforcement  today.


  • Phillips, Donald T. (1992). Lincoln on leadership. Grand Central Publishing. Hachette Book Group. New York, N.Y.



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