Let Lincoln's Character Traits Guide You to Business Success

02/16/2015 09:00 am ET | Updated Apr 18, 2015
Sergey Borisov via Getty Images

Before Abraham Lincoln became our 16th U.S. President, he was a business owner -- and not always a successful one. His shop in New Salem failed leading to personal bankruptcy. He received a patent for his invention to lift riverboats over sand bars but never got the business off the ground. As a lawyer, he faced challenges with collections.

Despite the setbacks, he went on to become a state legislator, U.S. Senator and an undeniably superb national leader who helped preserve our Union during the Civil War. This President's Day, as we celebrate what would have been his 206th birthday on February 12, it's time to reflect on the character traits that made him great and how the same qualities can guide small business owners.

Honesty. Lincoln got the "Honest Abe" moniker because of his reputation for telling the truth and behaving with integrity. In a classic example, he mistakenly took six cents too much from a customer at his store and walked three miles the same day to return it.

The takeaway here is pretty obvious. Business owners who foster a culture of honesty and transparency will build the trust of customers and workers. There can be a surprisingly high cost to telling tall tales. When you exaggerate a metric, under-report an expense or are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality. Eventually, you'll have to manage the fallout from inflating the truth.

Perseverance. As a lawyer, Lincoln was persistent, fearless and tireless in his business and political dealings. He never let his failures and disappointments stop him from moving forward.

Failures in business are unavoidable, but they can build character and allow you to learn and grow. A nose-to-the-grindstone mentality will enable you to continue working towards your goals. Committed entrepreneurs know that quitting or succumbing to one's failures is not an option.

Communication. Lincoln had a remarkable ability to communicate his vision and goals, and make his concepts simple and relevant to people's concerns. He understood the importance of explaining why his approach to problem-solving was the better choice.

Entrepreneurs need to excel at communication, and be loud and clear about their goals. And, it doesn't hurt to be a great storyteller -- an ability that propelled Lincoln into the White House. The keys are to know -- really know -- your audience, and target your message to meet their needs. You may never deliver a message as memorable as the Gettysburg address, but effective communication can help get your message interpreted correctly.

Vulnerability. Lincoln was never afraid to share his vulnerable side. He allowed himself to be photographed in times of great despair and wasn't uncomfortable sharing his grief with the nation when his son, Willie, died of tuberculosis.

In the business world, it can be hard to reveal your vulnerabilities. But accepting and sharing your mistakes will demonstrate that you don't need to be perfect at everything and therefore, neither do your employees. Sharing your vulnerable side can also strengthen connections with your peers and customers.

Lincoln's impact on contemporary society is alive and well. Lest you have doubts, consider how often he is quoted! The many positive character traits that Lincoln displayed have the ability to impact all of us, lead to greater entrepreneurial success and serve to inspire the next generation.