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Leadership Style: Top 7 Secrets of Communication that Abraham Lincoln Used For Effective Leadership

By Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

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By following some simple, timeless principles of good communication, Abraham Lincoln achieved amazing results, advancing from the lowest ranks of American society to the White House. If a backwoods boy on the frontier can pick up and master these principles—these secrets of communication-- so can you. Here are seven of the most important secrets of communication, and leadership, that Lincoln understood and mastered.

  1. IF YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY, YOU MUST HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY.

    Communication is sharing. But you cannot share what you do not have. No matter how skillful a speaker or writer you may be, if you are ignorant of something that you could know, or if your knowledge is faulty, you will eventually be found out.

    Lincoln wrote an aspiring lawyer: “The mode is very simple, though laborious and tedious. It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully…Work, work, work is the main thing.”

  2. USE STORIES, ANALOGIES, AND IMAGERY

    If you want to be a persuasive communicator, it's not enough to get things exactly right. Your audience may quickly forget the facts, the statistics, and the arguments that you use. But they are likely to remember your stories and examples, and the imagery and poetry of your language.

    Show your audience, don't tell them. Paint a picture, and they'll carry it with them.

  3. ASK QUESTIONS.
    From Lincoln’s earliest days as a lawyer, he learned how important questions could be in winning a case.

    Good questions have immense value in communication and leadership. Yet they are frequently under-utilized. You can use questions to gain information or to guide a conversation. Often the other party will not even know that they are being led. By means of questions, you can get them to think about a subject that they might not have considered previously, or lead them to look at it in a different light.

  4. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

    If you want to be an effective communicator, you must learn as much as possible about your audience. So consider the type of person you are trying to communicate with. Some people want to hear all the details. Others want only a broad outline. Some are moved by emotion; others distrust emotion.

    Study your audience to determine if they are ready to listen, ready to follow. "It takes two to speak truth"--Henry David Thoreau said--"One to speak and another to listen."

  5. CONVINCE THE AUDIENCE THAT YOU ARE A FRIEND WHO HAS THEIR BEST INTEREST AT HEART.

    When you speak in public, you will be most effective if you think of yourself, not as making a speech, but as someone who has come to talk with friends about a subject that is important to them.

    Lincoln stated in one of his speeches: "A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. Then he advised: “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend....On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his actions, or to mark him as one to be shunned or despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.... "

  6. CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR MESSAGE.

    Think about the impact your message will have on your audience before you deliver it. If you are tempted to say something harsh to somebody, ask yourself, “What will an angry message accomplish?” “Will it destroy the relationship?” Or, “Will it generate positive results?” Lincoln wrote: “No man who has resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Better to yield the right of way to a dog, than to be bitten by him in contesting the right.”

  7. IMPROVE YOUR ABILITY EVERY DAY.

    Lincoln tried to expose myself to the biggest ideas and the best communicators he could find. As a youngster, he steeped himself in books such as biographies of George Washington, selections from Cicero, Demosthenes, Franklin, and dramatic passages from Hamlet, Falstaff, and Henry V.

    Self-improvement need not be a solitary experience. Lincoln honed his communication skills by becoming a member of literary groups and debating societies.

    And Lincoln learned to benefit from criticism. He realized that one good critic telling you what you are doing wrong can do more to help you than ten thousand people telling you how great you are. But Lincoln did not let criticism destroy his self-confidence or his will to lead. Criticism was just information to be used.

    Every day do something no matter how small that will make you better. That's how you become an effective communicator--one step at a time. Famous newspaperman Horace Greeley, who often was Lincoln’s critic, made this telling observation about the great communicator: “There was probably no year of his life that he was not a wiser, cooler, better man than he had been the year preceding.”

Gene Griessman, Ph.D. is editor-in-chief of The Achievement Digest. For information about how you can receive a complimentary subscription, go to http://www.achievementdigest.com. This article is an excerpt from "Lincoln On Communication." This training video/DVD features a performance by Lincoln.([http://www.theamericans.us/ProductOrderForm.html])

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Article Submitted On: November 23, 2004