This past weekend, being in the Americana-Fourth-of-July-mood, I decided to sit down and watch "Lincoln" again. The Oscar-winning movie features acclaimed actor Daniel Day-Lewis portraying one of our nation's most beloved leaders, President Abraham Lincoln.

I enjoy studying history, story telling and the iconic figures that have grappled with challenges and shown true leadership. Watching the movie again, I was amazed at Lincoln's ability to combine both extreme patience and humility, with fire-breathing passion and focus especially as he attempted to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The movie highlights Lincoln's key challenge of passing the Amendment as the Civil War was coming to an inevitable end and the Amendment would perhaps only prolong the war. The idea of equal rights for all people was still in its infancy and was more of an idealistic endeavor, but not of high importance for Congress. The grace and fortitude to hold our nation together through one of our bloodiest periods in American history is awe-inspiring. Of our many stoic leaders, Lincoln tends to be one of my favorites.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, uses Lincoln as a good example of what he called Level 5 Leadership. Collins, having studied 1,435 good companies and then based on their performance over 40 years found 11 companies that became great, noted that leadership within an organization made a difference and what's more, the level of leadership mattered. At the top rung of these levels of leadership was Level 5 Leadership. Level 5 Leaders of the "Good To Great" companies demonstrated humility and professional will, revealing fierce resolve to do what was best for the company, not the leader him or herself.


The Level 5 Leaders built enduring greatness in their organizations, set up their successors for success, talked about the companies and others, but not themselves, and were usually ordinary people producing extraordinary results. Level 5 Leaders were most likely to have come from within the company, quick to give credit outside themselves when there was success, while at the same time taking personal responsibility when things went badly, and were distinctive in their approaches to the people they wanted in their company.

Collins says many good leaders only reach Level 4 Leadership: transformational, charismatic, and usually driving significant change. He alludes to the likes of Steve Jobs and others as this type of leader. Very good and iconic leaders, however, these leaders, after they exit, have not built the sustaining power for their organizations to be great for the years after their leadership. Collins holds a special place for his Level 5 Leaders of which he included Lincoln as one.

The fact that the Union survived, the nation rebuilt and America still stands as the undeniable world leader in many global arenas, is a testimony to the Level 5 Leadership that Lincoln exuded. Humility and professional will, revealing fierce resolve to do what was best for the nation, not the leader himself.

As news broke earlier this week about the purchase and restoration of the Putnam Block and Greenberg property here in Bennington, we saw institutional leaders stand together to give us the good news. Knowing many of them, I am optimistic for the future of the project and the due diligence that will go into such an initiative. I would encourage them to look again to the iconic Level 5 Leaders who have stood the test of time — the Lincolns, the Kennedys, so on and so forth. I'd encourage them to remain humble if they don't know an answer and to go seek it. As approaches, ideas and goals tend to diverge before they potentially converge when working with a diverse group, to have fierce resolve and to exercise unwavering faith to do what is in best interest for the town.

On behalf of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, I want to thank Chairman Jacobs and the Select Board, the Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, Global-Z, Brian McKenna, Anthony and Jacqueline Marro, and other local professionals, M&S Development of Brattleboro and the Bennington County Regional Commission, for their initial commitment to this large endeavor and to offer any services we might be able to provide.

Always Onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce