< Back to Blog
On Feeding Souls and Soldiers

It has been said you cannot manage men into battle, that you must lead them. While this is true, it is also true that without exceptional management, an army would fall to pieces. Leadership is about doing the right thing while management is about doing things right. Leadership is about transformation and management is about working within the status quo. Leaders help people cope with change, while managers help people cope with complexity.

This post looks at the differences between leadership and management by focusing on Abraham Lincoln, who in my opinion is the greatest American president, and Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War for most of the Civil War. By no means do I wish to say that Lincoln was only a leader and Stanton only a manager. They each exhibited great skills in both domains. However, their working relationship shows how visionary leadership and strategic management can work together to make incredible things happen.

It would be futile to talk at length of President Lincoln’s leadership within the confines of a single blog post. Suffice it to say that Lincoln inspired the masses, and in particular the troops. He made regular visits to the field to be with the troops to let them know how proud he was of their service, how appreciative he was of the sacrifices they were making, and how much he admired their dedication; in short, Lincoln fed their souls.

Edwin M. Stanton made sure they were fed.

Stanton’s genius for management and logistics allowed the Union Army and the War Department to operate effectively once Stanton replaced Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War. Under Cameron, the War Department attempted to please citizens and members of congress by hosting them daily while failing to fulfill urgent supply requests. Once Stanton took the helm, he insisted letters and written communications from the field took precedence over all other business and were addressed first thing in the morning to ensure needed supplies were distributed.

On the second day Stanton was in office, an under-qualified man with a letter from Mrs. Lincoln came to the War Department to request a job. Stanton refused. When the man came back the next day with a second personal request from the first lady, Stanton refused and confronted Mrs. Lincoln directly. He informed her that it was his job to do the best he could for the People and to protect the president’s honor. Instead of doing what was politically expedient and granting the request, Stanton ensured his department was staffed by competent people, regardless of whose toes he stepped on.

In one of the most extraordinary feats of military logistics the world had ever seen, Stanton organized the movement of 23,000 men and 1,100 horses, along with the equipment and supplies needed to support them, from the Potomac to Chattanooga in seven days. This feat, which General Halleck thought impossible to do in less than 40 days, was accomplished through Stanton’s dedication and skill in managing rail connections and supply lines. He personally manned the telegraphs for 48 hours straight taking only a few short naps. This managerial triumph saved Chattanooga and prevented a disastrous retreat.

In order to maintain order and discipline, Stanton felt a need to protect the status quo and the standards of the military. As such he would often stonily deny the pleas of soldiers and their families to overturn harsh sentences for desertion or dereliction of duty (a soldier could be put to death for falling asleep while on watch even if that soldier had been awake for 24 hours and had been in battle). Stanton felt this was the best way to ensure standards were kept, but he enforced these strict standards with the comfort of knowing President Lincoln had the ultimate authority to overturn sentences and used this authority liberally. Lincoln had the liberty to do the right thing because Stanton was his counterbalance and made sure things were done right. In this way Stanton’s managerial skills balanced Lincoln’s leadership.

Lincoln and Stanton’s relationship shows two distinct and complementary ways in which people take up authority. In my favorite book on the subject, Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin sheds light on this subject and notes that Lincoln “affectionately called Stanton his ‘Mars.’”

For more on the differences between leadership and management, three excellent resources are:

Burke, W. Warner (2008). Organization change: Theory and practice pp. 228-233. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kotter, J. P. (1990). What leaders really do. Harvard Business Review, May/Jun, Vol. 68 Issue 3, pp. 103-111.
Zaleznik, A (1977). Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review, May/Jun, Vol. 55 Issue 3, pp. 67-78.



Great blog! I love how you have merged your work in Leadership Development with your passion for politics. Keep up the good work with LeaderNation.



Thanks for pointing out your blog.

Remember "The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore." –Dale Carnegie

Congratulations on your launch, wishing you much success.


Carl, thanks for dropping by. Hopefully there will be enough overlap between what we do here and and what you are doing at http://www.blueskyblog.org/ to create a larger conversation.

Jim, thank you as always for your support and guidance, it means the world to me.

Comendable comparision and insight through politics. You are so clear in your thoughts Joaquin, no wonder I am fascinated being associated with you and looking at taking forward my association with you.

Hi, Subodh, glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you soon.

Add Comment

What is 12-5?