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Lincoln’s Way With Words

Have you seen Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s epic movie staring Daniel Day-Lewis? Run don’t walk to your nearest theater. It’s a great film for all the reasons movie critics will tell you. I was particularly pulled in by the way Abraham Lincoln led during such a critical moment in American history.

The conditions at the time bear repeating to highlight the intensity of the situation. The country was in crisis. Everything foundational was at stake: The very premise of freedom; the veracity of the Constitution; the geographic make-up of the country; the unity of the people; even the influence and power of the US government and its leaders.

This was a defining moment that required courage, clarity, and a great deal of leadership persuasion. That’s the part that fascinates me.

This was a time when there were heated debates on the floor of Congress. Sure, there was still a bit of horse-trading and deal making to secure votes, but personal persuasion was what influenced opinions, secured enrollment, and drove sustainable change.

The art of persuasion was very different during Lincoln’s time when compared to today. There were no 24-hour news channels to leak stories or run advertising. There were no national or global media forces to leverage as a platform to build a case. Words are what mattered most — words that were as compelling as the beliefs that formed them.

Indeed, Lincoln, the movie, showed us just how important language was to the leadership effectiveness of Lincoln, the man. I would argue that history was shaped not only by the right side of reason, but also by Lincoln’s ability to enroll others – including a forceful opposition and a divisive country – with the passion of his beliefs and his way with words.

Enjoy the movie. Watch for those moments where words made the difference. Were it not for Lincoln’s ability to pen a powerful speech, tell a folksy tale, or passionately articulate his core beliefs we might be living in a very different country today.

Thomas Butta

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