What can President Abraham Lincoln teach modern leaders about authentic communications? When you think about President Lincoln, what do you think about? What can we learn from this self-made man from Kentucky? How would he deal with our 24 hour news cycle? What communication lessons can we take from our 16th president?
Abraham Lincoln’s first gift as an influential communicator was he understood that ongoing communication was critical to success as a leader. He understood how important influence was for a leader in challenging times. He shared a clear vision with his leadership team from the start. He understood people had limited memories and used stories to reconnect people with purpose on a regular basis. With the many challenges facing him, it would have been easy for him to become overbearing with his team and citizens. He used humor as his tool of choice when sharing his opinions with others for the second and third time. He was a gifted storyteller who was at ease making himself the butt of jokes instead of others on his team.
Lincoln’s second gift as an influential communicator was that he kept his speaking simple and logical. At the height of the Civil War he would go out and meet soldiers and citizens alike. He would listen to how they spoke and what they spoke of. He spoke simply and was able to talk to people at all levels of society and education about their challenges. He also understood the impact of logic on the ways others think. He used social proof to move the masses to his opinion. He would share other’s logic when making his case to the public. He would look for similarities to unite people to his causes. Some observers said when you heard President Lincoln speak you felt he had empathy and understood your unique situation.
His third gift as an influential communicator was he understood his role in history. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address he spoke for less than two minutes and the speech was less than 250 words. Considering that this was an age where politicians spoke for extended periods of time, he chose his words carefully and considered brevity one of the keys to success in effective public speaking. His two inauguration speeches were short, direct, and moved people emotionally. He would spend hours writing his speeches, focusing on keeping them short and precise. He would also use the Bible as a source for inspiration while focusing on familiar core concepts to use during his speeches. Many of his well-known speeches have a spiritual quality to them while not being religious. This was a delicate balance when dealing with many highly charged topics throughout his presidential career. He was not afraid of using people’s values to connect with his causes.
His final gift as an influential communicator was that he knew who he was. He spent little time on being the most important person in the room. He focused his attention on others and what they needed. He led a team of rivals who all wanted his job and they were not afraid to let others know how smart they were. He understood he needed great men and women to accomplish great things. As a lawyer, he understood both sides of the debate. He used stories from his past to help make points in the present. He understood human nature and used questions to help his rivals come to his conclusions.
President Lincoln was a gifted politician. He understood how to get legislation done while not leaving his political enemies embarrassed. He spent a lot of time with political rivals building stronger relationships with them. He understood the best way to get things done was to understand what and why others were the way they were. He allowed them to express themselves explosively when needed. He listened and personalized his approach to each individual person’s wants and needs.
Few would argue that Abraham Lincoln led the United States in one of our most turbulent periods. At a time when many would have thrown up their hands and declared the Union unsalvageable, Lincoln persevered and held us together as a nation. He did this through constant communications with all of the parties involved. He recognized that once the lines of communication closed, they are very difficult to reopen. He took the time to talk with people to get to know them, what they stood for, and how to move them to see things the way he did. His communications style has probably led to Lincoln being considered one of our greatest presidents.