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Presidents’ Day: What Washington and Lincoln Can Teach Us

Last week we celebrated Presidents’ Day, which is popularly recognized as honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in particular. Both men, as two of the most prominent presidents in our nation's history, are also remembered as being exceptional communicators.

What can we learn from their communication styles?

Washington, as commander in chief of the Continental Army as it tried to break the American colonies free of England's rule, and later the first president of the United States, had the type of communication challenges and the requisite strengths to meet them that most of us will never face. He needed to communicate the vision of what his troops were fighting for, and what the new country would be like. He needed to establish camaraderie to keep them going even as they faced overwhelming odds and the most desperate of circumstances. And he had to use a masterful mix of verbal and non-verbal communication to deliver his messages. He was a skilled speaker, but just as importantly, he communicated with his confident presence, being with his troops on the battlefield rather than issuing his orders from afar.

While Washington was trying to create a country, Lincoln was faced with trying to keep the country together as the Civil War threatened its existence. Some of his greatest strengths as a communicator were his empathy, sincerity, and the ability to deliver a message clearly and simply. The Gettysburg Address is thought by many historians to be one of the greatest speeches in history, yet Lincoln needed only 272 words to communicate the essence of what the nation stood for.

While you will likely never have the building or the healing of a nation at stake, learning from how these two great presidents communicated effectively can still help us, I think, to meet our everyday communication challenges.

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