The last section of the book, Lincoln on Leadership, has to do with his communications with others. While this section is specifically about communication, it strikes me that all three of the other sections also had to do with communication. Ronald Reagan was called “the great communicator,” but that title may have better been left to Abraham Lincoln. He understood the need for appropriate and concise communication with everyone in which he came into contact.
“The Art of Public Speaking” is the title of chapter 13. Being well spoken is a very important part of getting people to follow any given leader. I listen to podcasts on a daily basis. Many of these podcasts contain interviews of various people. While I don’t claim to be a public speaking expert, I do understand the need for eliminating verbal cues, such as “you know” and “um” from your speech. Whenever I record myself, I do go back in and edit these verbal cues out of the recording. However, whenever I speak in public, I always have this in the back of my mind. I try to be succinct in my speech, and, rather than resorting to verbal “filler,” I try to simply pause. I’ve heard that the sound of silence is the most difficult sound when speaking in front of others. This is something that, early in my teaching career, I made a concerted effort to learn. When an educator asks a question and no one answers, it’s hard to let the silence linger. However, it’s necessary. My 10th graders were waiting for me to answer for them, it became an game between us, who could wait the longest.
While Lincoln was probably aware of his verbal cues, he was even more concerned with the message that he was giving. He knew that everything he said would be scrutinized and that everything he said, not only represented himself, but the United States as a whole. This is true of educators as well. As we talk to our students (and as those in my position talk to teachers) we are representing our districts and departments. We are all a part of something bigger. When we speak, whether we want to or not, we represent that larger group. Sometimes that’s a department, other times it’s a school or district. Regardless, we must choose our words wisely, because, regardless of the context, only in rare circumstances do we only represent ourselves.
According to Phillips, storytelling was one of the techniques that Lincoln used regularly. In chapter 14, “Influence People Through Storytelling and Conversation,” Phillips outlines Lincolns prolific storytelling ability and his ability to connect with those who could be considered “the common man.” I’ve always known that telling story can make a point even better than if it were brought up outright. As a teacher, telling story would often draw the interest of my students. (Funny though, they liked to hear stories, but reading stories was not of great interest to them.)
One lesson that this chapter illustrates is that of using humor to create loyalty in “followers.” Lincoln is said to have used humor to create levity in situations that were especially grave. He found that humor was a major component in persuading others.
The final chapter of the book, “Preach A Vision and Continually Reaffirm It,” restates the importance of setting goals from Chapter 10. Lincoln continually went back to the goals and vision that he had when he took office. Districts and buildings who have developed a mission and continually put it before the teachers will continually come out ahead when they look at whether their goals have been achieved.
Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times gave me a look into the world of Abraham Lincoln and his struggles as President during the Civil War. When I was a college student, I read a poem by Walt Whitman dedicated to Lincoln that has always stayed with me.
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass