jim@millikenproject.com 207-808-8878 Our book "Life is a Project: How are you managing?" is now available!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Washington & Lincoln, Project Managers

I have long felt that project management someday will save the universe. This weekend, I have realized that it was crucial to the foundation and preservation of the United States of America. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were among the greatest project managers in human history.

Think about it: A project manager must lead disparate stakeholders through complexity, uncertainty, difficulty and risk to achieve a high-value outcome that looked impossible at the outset. Project managers need to be competent at managing the unmanageable and inspiring the unleadable.

Not only did both Washington and Lincoln do that supremely well, they’re still doing it. The words and example of both presidents continue to be touchstones of civic and political excellence that we refer to frequently.

Here’s the record:

Washington led his volunteer farmers and tradesmen to victory over the world’s greatest military power. Not only that, he singlehandedly kept his fractious fellow citizens together at the Constitutional Convention long enough to place securely under the wobbly new nation a document and a set of principles that have sustained this brilliant new idea for 232 years (so far -- keep your fingers crossed).

We don’t think about it much today, but Washington underwent a firestorm of hostility, including accusations that his secret intent was to make himself king of the new country (his real longing was to get home to Mount Vernon). No one had ever seen a government such as the one proposed, nor a leader so truly noble.

Among the many great moments of Washington’s service came near the end of the Revolutionary War, when his officers came to believe that Congress was going to renege on payment to them. Washington confronted them in April 1783 with a speech of great patriotism, followed by personal remarks that brought many of them to tears. And ended the prospective mutiny.

Lincoln, an unknown country lawyer from Illinois, traveled the rough roads of the country with his inspiring oratory, leading to his incredible victory over opposing presidential candidates who had far greater public stature. Then, as secession came crashing down on the country, he recruited those very men into his cabinet so the nation could benefit from their expertise and their connections.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s marvelous “Team of Rivals” tells in fascinating detail the entire story of this man’s triumph over agony and opposition through his commitment, vision and leadership.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was just 275 words that took about two minutes to express. It is always worth repeating. Happy Presidents’ Day!


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln - November 19, 1863

1 comment:

  1. Jim, what an interesting analogy. I think of projec managers as the keepers of the overarching goals. I wonder if we, as citizens and politicians, have lost sight of those. Partisanship has no place in project management.