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The Head Coach – Abe Lincoln: The Real ‘Great Communicator’

Politicians and pundits alike have called Ronald Reagan the “Great Communicator.” As a Motivational Speaker I am always striving to learn more about being a GREAT Communicator myself. After watching the Spielberg movie last weekend, I firmly believe the first Republican who receives my vote for this moniker is Abraham Lincoln.

In one of the first scenes in the movie, a contentious black soldier questions President Lincoln as to why their race has not been promoted. He says black soldiers are dying for the cause just like white soldiers.

This seems highly irregular and a bit disrespectful, given the time and place. Many leaders would have gone on the defensive, wearing their egos on their sleeves, with a retort like, “How dare you!”

President Lincoln does the opposite: He disarms the soldier with a caring question as to what he plans on doing after the war.

“Lincoln” the movie centers around the passage of the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery. Most of the scenes illustrate how this change in the constitution was a very contentious issue of the day. Not everyone believed all men should be free.

But the movie is so much more. It shows the human side of Lincoln as well as his fatherly and husbandly sides. However, I was mesmerized by the illustration of how wonderful a communicator he really was.

One important lesson in being a great communicator is to not act defensive. It is so easy to protect your ego when someone makes a comment that can impale your fragile self.

Great communicators do not lash out, but rather use empathy to promote a connection. When that bridge is formed, communication will be facilitated. Lincoln demonstrated that time and time again in the movie, and as such, helped to get the 13th amendment passed during a very difficult time.

The second marvelous principle of communication showcased by Lincoln was how he told wondrous tales and used many proverbs to make his points. Many of the tales in the movie were based in fact. The screenplay was adapted from the book “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The scene I enjoyed the most in this regard was when Lincoln met one of his political rivals, senator Thaddeus Stevens. They shared a concern with bringing an end to slavery, but the difference was the method of change.

To make his point clear to Senator Stevens, as well as to the audience, Lincoln speaks about a compass directing us “True North.” Lincoln says that a compass may point us in the right direction but it does not tell us where the bogs and marshes will be along the way.

The point is clear: The righteous path is never easy and will come with many unforeseen obstacles.

Why do we continue to be so fascinated with Abraham Lincoln?

When you study Lincoln as a politician, communicator, and man, you soon come to realize that he is a sage for all time.

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About Gregg Steinberg

Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a performance psychology expert, best selling author, and inspirational keynote speaker on the various topics relating to individual and team performance. Google+ Profile Get in touch with Dr. Gregg

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  1. Alan H. @ Communication Skills
    June 13, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Dr. Steinberg,

    I thought the movie Lincoln was great too. And it’s interesting to contrast Lincoln and Reagan. Both were gifted speakers, but different styles. Reagan was more extraverted and charismatic. Lincoln was more introverted and academic. They both have an appeal for different people. It just shows that there is no one style of public speaking that is best. Each person has to do what brings out their own best personality.

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