Three Things That Made Lincoln Great + Two Books

Image of Lincoln from the movie.

We all know Lincoln died a hero. But what about his come-up?

I just finished the first quarter of “Team of Rivals”, an 800-page tome written about Lincoln and three of his contemporaries. All three of his contemporaries were more well-known and had a more prestigious resumes. The four men were all ambitious and smart. So what made Lincoln different?

Three stand-out characteristics Lincoln had on his side were a captivating story-telling ability honed in his youth, a relatable working-class background, and an ability to win people over in victory or defeat.

Lincoln’s mother died when he was young. He was raised by an illiterate father and stepmother. His stepmother, noticing the intellect of young Abraham, provided a few books for him (the Bible, Shakespeare, A Pilgrim’s Progress). Abe read these books over and over forming the foundation of his mental framework. His father moved their family around from one failing farm to another but did have them on a popular trade route. Young Abe would sit at the dinner table captivated by the stories travelers would tell as they stayed at the house. He would stay up all night trying to memorize the stories to impress his friends the next day. A few foundational books and telling stories formed the bedrock of his storytelling ability. Making him, what some call, our only poet president.

Before he became a back-country lawyer in Illinois, Lincoln worked on farms and boats. Like many working-class people, this led to quick wit, a sense of humor, and relatability that isn’t normally found in the elite class.

I’ll share with you one other story that stands out to me. At this time Lincoln had served a term in Congress and was decades into his law practice. Lincoln had a reputation in sparsely populated Illinois as one of the best lawyers. The biggest patent case in the history of the US at that time was supposed to be heard in Illinois. The lead lawyer, based in New York, selected Lincoln to support him in the case. Lincoln, thrilled at this opportunity, began preparing for the case diligently for months. The case was moved to Cincinnati so the New York lawyer selected someone else to support him…but never sent mail to Lincoln notifying him. So Lincoln proceeded to prepare for the case and eventually caught wind that it was going to be in the neighboring state. He showed up at the courthouse on the day of the trial and got the cold shoulder from the lead lawyer. Abe decided to give the man all the files he prepared and stayed to see how the case would unfold. The side Lincoln would have supported won the case. Abe wrote to a friend that after seeing these well-educated easterners in this case he realized he had a lot to learn and that he was heading home to study his law practice further…not to mention that they had disrespected him or wasted his time. The lead lawyer, finally feeling guilty about the whole thing sent Lincoln a check for the evidence he provided. Lincoln mailed it back to him and said don’t worry about it…Years later after being selected for president he chose the man who stood him up to be in his cabinet, because of how impressed he was with the man’s performance on that case.

That is putting one’s ego aside.

The story of Lincoln is a story of adroit human relations from a great storyteller. Two skills that can always be honed further.

📚🧠Two Books To Sharpen Your People Skills

+ while Americans get back to work and return to offices everywhere, now would be a good time to visit/revisit the below two books to sharpen your human relations skills. I’m doing so now:

  1. How to win friends and influence others
  2. How to talk to anyone

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