Lessons from Lincoln
Lately I’ve been very interested in learning as much as I could about one of the most admired Presidents in US history, Abraham Lincoln. The more I learned of him, the more fascinated I became about how successful he was. Against all odds, he managed to convince people to support him and get his network to send him opportunities to become more successful. There’s a lot we can learn from him but I want to focus on three specific items that I think he was very good at. These 3 things are:
- His humbleness
- His skill of talking about the same subject from different perspectives
- His ability to understand his audience
Why being humble is important
Many of you have heard the nickname ‘Honest Abe’ as an endearing way to refer to Abraham Lincoln. People called him this probably based on a lot of anecdotes about his life that survived in history. One of my favorites is the story of when he was a shop clerk and realized that he over-charged a customer for tea. Instead of waiting until the next visit by the customer, he decided to immediately close shop and walk the 3 miles it took to get to the customer’s home to give her the money that wasn’t his as soon as he could. The sum in question was 6 pennies.
Another rather intriguing anecdote was of when he was a post master at one point. The story goes that he had some funds left after the office was shut down and the postal service never requested the money back. A few years later, they realized the mistake and although he went through some financial hardships, he still had the money – to the penny – to pay back.
He wasn’t always successful as a business man and actually racked up quite a bit of debt, especially one that was shared with a business partner of his. When his business partner defaulted, he assumed the debt as his own and proceeded with a heavy financial burden to pay it off over the years of his career.
He often stepped back from a political opportunity by allowing others to run for office simply because he felt that person was better suited for the position than he was. What is amusing is that some historians say he might have never become president if he would have not done this. All of these examples display his humbleness and are likely reasons why people still look up to Abraham Lincoln as a role model, almost 150 years after his death.
Humbleness is something we look for and appreciate in our society. It’s something that is admired as it is hard to achieve at times in the light of being extremely successful. This article from The Wall Street Journal speaks of why so many, otherwise nice, people turn into ‘Tyrants‘ when they become very successful and climb up the ranks: The Power Trip | Wall Street Journal
It seems as though Abraham Lincoln was able to maintain a humble demeanor despite obvious challenges. This quality became very appreciated by his fellow citizens during his time and still is today.
What does this mean from a NRM perspective? It’s worthwhile to train ourselves to remain humble regardless of our success (especially if you follow Mindmaven’s NRM ways to get there sooner).
Speaking on a single subject from different perspectives
One of the most famous aspects of Lincoln’s life was the Douglas-Lincoln debate during the senate race of 1858 in Illinois. He agreed to 7 debates of which, despite a shaky start, he was perceived the winner overall. Although he was successful in the debates, one thing he was astutely aware of was that each debate was reprinted at the two local newspapers. Because these were relatively large newspapers, their stories where syndicated nationally. Despite the local nature of a senate race, Lincoln knew he had a national audience.
He knew that each debate was transcribed and printed in these newspapers and would reach a much broader audience than what he had in front of him during each debate. Therefore he made sure to talk about the same subject matter in each debate, including institutional slavery, from a different light or perspective. This way, it created an interest in his audience to read more about him instead of thinking that since ‘they had read one, they read them all’.
This strategy is extremely useful in today’s world and more relevant than ever simply because we have the challenge of grabbing people’s attention. For example, if you post something on Facebook or Twitter, the likelihood of a lot of people having prolonged exposure, is relatively small since there’s so much out there and the news cycle on twitter is so fast. Delivering a series of Tweets or posts along the same subject , but with different perspectives, increases the chance it will get read.
Understanding your audience
His breakthrough moment was when he held his Cooper Union speech in New York on February 27, 1860. As we know, this speech was a critical event that launched him into winning the Republican presidential nomination and later the presidency. Needless to say, the rest is history.
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Few people know that this speech was successful against many odds. Contemporary sources tell us that upon seeing him on stage and hearing him start to speak, people initially thought it was going to be a horrible event and he was likely to fail. This is because he was an odd fellow with awkward physical movements and a shrill voice. On top of that, he wasn’t very sophisticatedly dressed (probably the equivalent of showing up in a black tie in front of a Silicon Valley start-up CEO) and his accent was perceived as frontiersmen rough rather than an intellectual powerhouse that the New York audience was accustomed to.
How did he manage to still deliver such a successful speech? He understood the audience. He had an extremely well-researched speech and provided a great historical account on what the founding fathers likely thought about slavery as well as the government’s ability to control it. Very soon, the initial impression of awkwardness faded into the background and people began to listen to what he had to say.
His words offered the intellectual stimulation they were seeking, which was something he worked hard on. He spent a lot of time researching, going through historical documents. Even after arriving, he spent every free minute he had in New York preparing for that speech. Things he did exceptionally well were:
- Becoming an expert on the topic he was talking about by knowing the space, how to talk about it and coming across as authentic.
- Understanding the audience and being aware of what resonated with them.
- Delivering content that was customized to the common interest he shared with them.
By doing these things, he was able to overcome a bias that created an uphill battle to win the confidence of the audience. This technique is available to us today and is especially valuable to those of us facing biases ourselves, be it gender, race, or language related.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]