9 Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln

speeches_lincolnFrom north of the border, happy 4th of July to my American friends!  In honour of America’s birthday, I wanted to share some insights on what I’ve learned from an American hero who has truly inspired me:  Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve always had appreciation for Lincoln since I first learned about him, but that appreciation has grown after finishing the book “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and American’s Most Perilous Year” by David Von Drehle, which shows the challenges that Lincoln overcame during the Civil War to keep the country together (and end slavery at the same time).

Anyone, especially entrepreneurs, can learn a lot from Abraham Lincoln’s life, including:

1) Your Past Isn’t a Predictor of Future Success 

Lincoln’s numerous challenges before he became President in 1860 have been well-documented:  business closure, the loss of a love, a nervous breakdown, numerous defeats in political campaigns … but he soldiered on to win the highest post in the land.  His life trajectory looks a lot like a roller coaster (with more downs than ups) before he became the most powerful man in the nation.

So many people stay trapped in the past, replaying the old defeats in their minds instead of putting positive energy towards new opportunities.  If you hopped in a time machine to go to the 1830′s, 1840′s or 1850′s and  told someone that Abraham Lincoln would become President, you’d be met with an “Abraham Who???” or laughter.  If Lincoln was able to get over his defeats to become the leader of the United States, what can you do?

2) You Can Turn Your Enemies Into Supporters 

I’ve always been impressed by Lincoln’s ability to turn the other cheek when attacked by his critics (and he had a lot more than you or I do).  He even brought some of his harshest opponents into his cabinet once he became President, because he recognized that they could help each other.  For a detailed look at how Lincoln accomplished this, read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s critically acclaimed book, “Team of Rivals”.

3) You Can Probably Handle More Than You Think You Can 

When I recently read “Rise to Greatness”, I was surprised by how much stress Lincoln had in this life. Whereas we complain about having a few extra appointments crammed into a day, or a surprise fender bender that we have to take care of, Lincoln was hit with pressures from all directions and managed to stay on track.  I’m amazed that the man didn’t have a heart attack while in the White House!

When it feels like your life is spinning out of control and you can’t take it anymore, remember what Abraham Lincoln had to shoulder.  Reach down deep and get that second wind to keep going.

4) Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results 

When we talk about the end of slavery now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it was something accomplished swiftly and even somewhat effortlessly, as if Lincoln woke up one day and decided to draw up the paperwork to free the slaves.  But the process was a much more difficult one.  Lincoln was attacked by many Abolitionists as going too slowly on the slavery issue (and by Anti-Abolitionists as going too quickly with it!).  Lincoln was always sympathetic to the plight of the slaves, but he realized that an outright end to slavery done too soon could destroy the country.  He would have to do it slowly, inch the country towards the goal and then strike when the opportunity presented itself.

When you’re continuing along on your entrepreneurial journey, there can be a tendency to want to do everything right away.  But to be successful, you have to pick your spots.  Consistently making small steps towards a goal can insure that you hit it when the timing is right!

5) You Can Become a Self-Educated Expert on Anything You Want 

There’s a belief that you have to sit through college and university classes to truly become an expert on something.  But Lincoln was able to become an expert on a number of things by spending his spare time immensed in study.  Take military strategy for example.  At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln left much of the planning to his generals since he figured they were the ones with experience on the battlefield.  But as the war dragged on (and his frustration with some of his Generals increased), Lincoln started taking a more active role in the planning of the battles.  He was always pouring over maps and reading historical accounts of battles won by the greats like Napoleon.

You can teach yourself anything – especially with the help of today’s technology.  In the past, access to good books was limited and you had to go to a library to learn anything.  With today’s technology, you can learn from your home with a few clicks of the keyboard.  Never before has there been such easy access to knowledge to teach yourself anything!

6) Stay in Control of Your Emotions 

Lincoln was able to stay cool and collected while fighting the Civil War, at times when most people would have screamed in anger.  For example, he had some Generals who were too timid and wouldn’t strike when they were ordered to deal the death blow to the Confederate Army, which prolonged the Civil War and ensured many more Americans would be killed.  One of those Generals, George Mclellan, was always doing things to frustrated Lincoln (disobeying commands, criticizing the President, and requesting more troops be sent to him).  Lesser men would have flipped at Mclellan, but Lincoln showed tremendous poise when dealing with him.

When you’re running a business, you’ll encounter numerous frustrations throughout each day.  Instead of letting them throw you off track, remember Lincoln and keep your cool.  You’ll be better off for it.

8) Tell Stories! 

Abraham Lincoln was always telling stories to illustrate the points that he wanted to make.   So rather than repeating tired, stale arguments, he had a story at this disposal.  Storytelling has an incredible impact on people’s brains - they’ll remember a story better than statistics or anything else.  Try injecting some storytelling into your communications with others and see the difference that it makes.

9) The Bad Times Won’t Last 

Lincoln is remembered as saying; “This too shall pass”.  Despite being dogged by depression his whole life, this unlikely man kept the nation optimistic during its most bloody war ever.  There was times when Lincoln felt as if the Civil War would never end, but he kept in mind that bad times can’t remain.

If you’re going through a difficult time in your life, remember that things will eventually turn around for you. There are 365 days in a year, and almost 2000 days in a 5 year span.  Those are a lot of days to turn things around … you’ll start getting some breaks!

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Watering Your Dream

chinese_bambooEntrepreneurs aren’t known as being the most patient bunch (I know I’m not), but Les Brown once told a great story that illustrates the value of patience. Have you heard the one about the Chinese Bamboo Tree? After planting the seed, farmers have to water it for 5 years with no visible signs of a tree coming out of the ground. That’s over 1800 days of little progress (to the eye, at least).

But guess what happens at about the 5 year mark? The tree sprouts up out of the ground … to about 90 feet in just 5 weeks!  The moral of the story is that things take time. That’s just life. But if you’re working towards something daily, you are making progress … even if you can’t see it at the moment.

The tendency in today’s society is to want to get everything instantaneously. But it’s important to keep your eye on the big prize – because your efforts today will eventually sprout into something big.  A seemingly unimportant meeting today could turn into something much bigger down the road, as could any phone call or connection that you make.  Each of these is pushing your own Chinese Bamboo tree (your dream) closer to breaking out from the ground.

This past weekend I saw an example of this in my own business.  I connected with a fellow business coach and entrepreneur on social media about a year ago.  Since then, I’ve been communicating with her and following her posts closely online (she’s a no-BS person with a lot of positive energy, so I always found her interesting).  To make a long story short, I just joined a group that she runs for other coaches/entrepreneurs on the weekend, and have already learned a lot and have connected with an amazing group of individuals who will help me grow my business.  None of that would have happened had I not reached out to her and nurtured that relationship!

To hear more of the Chinese Bamboo Tree story, here’s the video from the Les Brown:

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Guest Post: The 1% Versus the Rest of the World

RiversCorbettThis post will be a little controversial, but as my father told me, when he reached his 50′s he really didn’t give a shit anymore of what other people thought of him … and I’m now 51. :).  And I must qualify this opinion is purely based on my view from what I see from my country.  Okay here we go …

As a global community there has been a tremendous focus on bashing the so-called “1%” of the population which controls so much wealth. We ask – we DEMAND – why don’t they give more to the rest of the world?/do their share?/be good citizens and just stop being sooo greedy for cripes sakes?

As an entrepreneur I have a fundamental problem with that thinking. The rationale is simple.  As a First World country – as part of a bigger First World community – we build our nations based on encouraging our citizens to be free and chase your dreams … be what you want … prosperous or not. So why should we be mad, or jealous, when some people do what we encourage them to do (be prosperous?). Why should we expect them to give back (which most do, by the way) like it’s a privilege or even a right we deserve.

No my friends: it’s not the 1% we should be mad at or expect things from simply because they decided to take advantage of the system and flourish and prosper. You see, we all have the opportunity … the SAME opportunity … and those people just decided to take advantage of the opportunity. And for that we should brand them as evil people?  Give your head a shake!

And here’s a little unspoken truth about the 1% … they are not a drain on society.

We have it wrong. At 51 I have to say: if we want to be mad, upset and get upset at we should be pissed at the people who have the opportunity the 1% have, but have decided not to pursue it, and yet still expect the 1% to give to them. Those people are the ones we should be saying “If you don’t like your situation…go do something about it. Stop complaining. You are a drain on society, not the 1%, because you are not doing anything about this great opportunity you have!”

Before some of you start yelling and screaming that I am not sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden and mentally ill, I assure you I am sensitive to them, and I believe our society should give and help. I am talking about the people who just won’t try, and complain and point fingers at others rather than look at the person in the mirror.

You want a better life for you, your family, your community?  Don’t look at the 1% who are contributing – look at yourself!  It’s the people who refuse to look at themselves that piss me off.

What do you think?


Rivers Corbett, MBA is an award winning entrepreneur, speaker, and author of “13 Fears of Entrepreneurs” and “10 Insider Secrets all Business Owners Must Know.”  You can connect with him at www.RiversCorbett.me

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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Edge of Tomorrow

edgeoftomorrowThis week I got out to see the new Tom Cruise flick, The Edge of Tomorrow.  It has everything that you want in a summer action movie: explosions, battles, cool technology … and also a powerful message for entrepreneurs.

Now, I’m sure the studios didn’t spend almost $200 million in the hopes of teaching entrepreneurs anything, but I want to share what I think you can learn from it.

SPOILER ALERT – although I’m not giving away much detail, or the ending of the movie here (most of what I talk about can be gleaned from the official trailer), stop reading if you don’t want to know anything before seeing it.  You’ve been warned!


In The Edge of Tomorrow, Earth has been at war for about five years with an invading alien species called Mimics.  Tom Cruise plays a military officer named William Cage, who is more of a public relations person than an actual soldier.  Although he does everything he can to stay as far away from the battlefield as possible, he’s thrust into the war after a “misunderstanding” with a superior officer.  He’s sent to the army base of the UDF (United Defense Force) and told that he’ll be fighting in a large invasion (or rather, suicide mission) on the beaches of France the next morning.  Cage clearly isn’t trained, doesn’t know how to work the mechanical suits that the army uses, or even how to take the safety off his weapon.  He’s scared silly and sweating bullets, and lasts about five minutes before dying in battle.

But something strange happens.  He’s thrown into a time loop where every time he dies, he wakes up back at the army base the day before and relives what he just went through.  So he must fight the same battle over and over (kind of like Groundhog Day with explosions), learning from each one before he dies and has to try again.  His first few times he’s like a deer caught in headlights, but he takes what he learns and eventually becomes a skilled, experienced fighting machine.

So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs are a lot like William Cage when they first hit the battlefield.  They’re scared silly as well and haven’t a clue what to do in the crazy world of business.  Many die and stop trying – preferring to get as far away from the fight as possible.  But the good ones take their lumps, learn from their defeats, and come back to fight another day.  Just like Cage is able to get further along with every “time loop”, entrepreneurs who fail often come back stronger the next time.  They’ve absorbed the lessons from before, and they don’t make as many the next time out.

The movie also shows the importance of partnering with others.  His first time out fighting, Cage sees a female soldier named Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt), and begins working with her every time he loops.  To tackle the Mimics by himself would be impossible (even with all the experience that he’s gathering by going through the battle time and time again), but by partnering with Rita he has someone to watch his back and help him be more successful.  I know of few entrepreneurs who are able to achieve much success without help from others.

Making some mistakes doesn’t mean that you’ll never make anymore.  An entrepreneur is never finished making mistakes.  Every time Cage gets the furthest that he’s ever gotten, he doesn’t know what’s coming next.  But by letting the lessons sink in, he’s in a perfect position to make greater strides the next time out.

I recommend that entrepreneurs take a night off, shut their phones down and go watch this movie. Then wake up ready to fight another battle tomorrow!

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New Group Coaching Class Starts This Month!

0001-2151966I have a few spots remaining in my next group coaching class that starts this month, so I’m putting out an invitation for you to join.  Who am I looking for? Anyone owns a business and is looking to get to the next level, in a supportive group setting that is focused on getting results in a short period of time .

The class takes place every week for one month, with group calls that are approximately an hour (at a set time each week), and with support between the classes.  Participants will learn new ways to achieve goals, receive accountability to hit those goals, and make connections with the other entrepreneurs that can last a lifetime.

This coaching is ideal for a time-strapped entrepreneur who is watching his or her budget.  I’ve set the price at an affordable amount that can fit any entrepreneur’s budget, just $250 for the month!  Interested entrepreneurs can click here to register - once the class is filled, it’s filled.

Looking forward to having you as part of the group!


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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

procrastinationTom Petty was right – the waiting is the hardest part (especially for entrepreneurs).  I like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and I’ve always been interested in the subject of procrastination – especially figuring out why people wait and how they can get past it. Procrastination can affect anyone, and even entrepreneurs (who are generally known as being “action-oriented”) aren’t immune from it. How many new businesses never got started because procrastination killed someone’s dream before it got off the ground?  I’m guessing that it’s a huge number!

Some can’t shake the old “paralysis by analysis” trap.  They do the research part, but do too much of that instead of taking action.  I love the Internet and I don’t think I could survive without it … but the problem with the Internet is there’s too much information out there on every subject imaginable.  Someone gets an idea for a business and starts Googling it, but it’s like trying to drink water from a firehose.  There’s way too much to handle!

Too much research creates more questions and your brain starts thinking of everything that can happen in the future (usually weighted towards the negative stuff).  No one can predict everything that will happen to a business down the road, but there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there that try to anticipate every single outcome and drive themselves nuts in the process.

Yesterday I had a chance to sit down with a local entrepreneur who has no problems with procrastination. He recently decided to pursue a passion that he has.  Rather than study it to death, he simply got started.  He chose what his event will look like, how many tickets he’ll sell and what the price will be, where it will take place and when.  He went right down to check out the venue that he wants with no advance notice, met with the person in charge of renting the space out, and settled that part of the equation. His enthusiasm was obvious the minute he started talking to me about it, and I was happy to see that he took the wise advice of Nike and decided to “Just Do It”.  I’m predicting this attitude towards action will serve him well with his venture.

The other reason people get stuck procrastinating is they’re too concerned about what other people think of them.  Here’s a secret: people aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.  I once read an article in Success Magazine where the author recounted something that happened to her during the whole Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal in New York a few years back (since this blog is PG-13, I’ll leave out the details!).  This was back when the story was plastered daily all over tv, the newspapers and of course, the Internet.  She got into a cab, and decided to make small talk with the driver by asking him what he thought about the scandal.  He had no clue who Anthony Weiner was!  She then realized that if someone living in New York didn’t know about a “major” political scandal, do people really care what other people are doing?  They have their own issues, and your next business venture probably ranks pretty low in importance compared to their family relationships, what’s going on at their workplace, that health issue that popped up or  whether they’ll be able to pay their mortgage this month.  And even if some members of the peanut gallery feel the need to worry about what you’re doing with your life, are you going to let them control your future?

An exercise that I use with clients is the “48 Hour Action Step”.  We identify an action that can be done in the next two days that will give the client an immediate boost for his or her business.  It can be an activity like meeting with a potential new mentor, opening a bank account, ordering business cards – something that will give a shot of momentum.  It’s human nature to want to make progress, and doing a seemingly small task can give you momentum to keep the ball rolling.

William Butler Yeats has a great quote that I like to keep in mind: “Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking”.  What actions can you take today to blast through any procrastination that you have?

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Strategies to Improve Your Work/Life Balance

beachI know a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with being able to get time off, and with summer vacation season approaching I thought it was a good idea to give some strategies on how you can make that happen. So I’ve compiled a set of articles that I wrote and added them to the “Free Resources” section of the website.

To access the strategies, check out “How to Get More Time Off … Without Hurting Your Business”.

I’d love to hear your feedback.  Are you getting enough time off?  Why not?  Or if you are, what’s your secret?

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