Do The Ends Justify The Means?


An age old question…

I saw Lincoln, Steve Spielberg’s latest movie, and came away from it with some questions, from a leadership perspective. Abraham Lincoln is renowned as one of the greatest presidents and leaders in United States history. In this movie, Spielberg tells the story of Lincoln’s last days, the time in which he worked to pass the 13th Amendment and end the Civil War. Both Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens took questionable actions to advance their end goal of abolishing slavery. Lincoln sought to change the vote of house members and delay a meeting with the southern leaders, while Stevens modified his oratory to be more inclusive; shocking and disappointing his constituents.

And.. they won. The 13th Amendment was passed, banishing slavery for all time.

So, the leadership questions are:

  • When the goal is pure and the cost of not achieving it is high, do the ends justify the means? and
  • How do we as leaders make that decision that “this particular outcome” is one that qualifies?

Elisa K. Spain