“Lincoln’s Mentors” Imparts Importance Of Archetypes For Life

Mar 31, 2021

Michael J. Gerhardt’s book, “Lincoln’s Mentors,” teaches us about the thirst for knowledge and ambition of our 16th president. While Abraham Lincoln was an imperfect human being, we learn about the ways this self-made man educated himself and drew courage and insights from others during his lifetime. It is a model from which we can learn how to intentionally seek out others to become “better angels of our nature” – in the workplace and in our personal lives.

The University of North Carolina professor traces Lincoln’s humble beginnings and perseverance to make something of himself – to be esteemed by his countrymen.

Of particular importance is how Lincoln sought out various mentors in life. They came from three groups:

  • Books
  • Historical figures
  • People he met and from whom he solicited counsel


In his early life, Lincoln struggled to access books. Yet, he never wasted an opportunity when he did get his hands on one to read and re-read it. For Lincoln, the Bible, “Aesop’s Fables,” Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” were ones he cherished.  They influenced not only his character but also his oratory and the way he commanded language in his writings. They also influenced his relationships, leadership and vision for the country.

Historical figures

In this camp, Lincoln counted figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Chief Justice John Marshall as mentors who shaped his vision for life and for his country. With Jackson, in particular, he saw a figure who sought to preserve the Union at all costs, even as South Carolina threatened to secede as early as 1832.

Personal mentors

This last group of individuals were those with whom Lincoln had relationships of varying degrees – people like John Todd Stuart and Orville Browning of Illinois, and Whig Party stalwarts Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, as well as Zachary Taylor. Clay had the most influence on Lincoln’s political philosophy, one could argue, as Lincoln was first a member of the Whig Party. Lincoln built his case for the Emancipation Proclamation based, in part, on what he learned from his mentor Clay over many decades.

An important note about mentorship: Lincoln was not best friends with all the aforementioned. With some, there was affinity and later distance. But mentorship does not necessarily translate to friendship. His mentors provided him different points of view to consider as he learned to compromise when it made sense and when to hold his position unfettered.

Secondly, Lincoln did not parrot his mentors. He learned from their successes and mistakes and made their substance his own.

For 21st Century individuals like ourselves, it would seem that our digital age presents us with no shortage of mentorship opportunities.

While we can connect with people on LinkedIn and other social networks, it takes concerted effort to build mentorship relationships and nurture them.

Here are three suggestions for successfully building and nurturing mentor relationships:

  1. Take mentorship relationships seriously. Be respectful of a mentor’s time and make the most of the encounter
  2. Come prepared for meetings. Do your homework to make conversations thoughtful and meaningful
  3. Mentor others. While gleaning the insights of experienced individuals can advance your career and broaden your personal strengths, “paying it forward” provides its own rewards.

While digital tools like e-mail, texting and Zoom are great, my hope is that in our quasi-post-COVID-19 world, we will once again have more opportunities for face-to-face encounters with individuals who inspire us to be “better angels of our nature.” By investing in mentor relationships, we can take a page from Lincoln’s playbook, and take the chance to listen, learn and grow.

Philip Anast

Philip has been building, managing and executing PR programs for technology providers since 1995. Using the power of storytelling and influencer relations, he has launched new companies, brands and products, resulting in market penetration, market share growth and corporate acquisition for such clients as HP, Language Analysis Systems, Motorola and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Prior to joining Amendola Communications, Philip worked at Chicago-based PR firm Tech Image, serving in various roles over his 15-year tenure, including managing client programs, providing strategic counsel, pitching new business, growing client relationships, teaching best practices and managing finances. During that time, he served several clients targeting the healthcare/HIT sector, including NEC Display Solutions, IBS (now Iptor Supply Chain Systems) and Cleo. Philip also has worked in the technology practices of Hill and Knowlton and Porter Novelli. He began his PR career at U.S. Robotics and 3Com. Philip holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.