Lincoln’s Tool Box

by Phil Diment

President Lincoln’s Tools for Great Communication as Relevant Today as in the 19th Century

Recently I had an opportunity to interview one of the top build-to-suit developers in the United States, Steve Van Amburgh, CEO of KDC and a tenant of ours at Preston Commons in Dallas.  We published the interview in our latest issue of Premier Office Magazine.   Steve and KBS CEO Chuck Schreiber, both worked together years ago at Koll Development Company and have been good friends over the years.

Steve has earned a lot of respect with firms he works with to build large office campuses — State Farm, NBC Universal and many others.   He’s also earned respect from his own employees.    One of Steve’s little secrets are 3” x 5” pocket cards that he carries with him to inspire him to be a better leader.

Steve hands these cards out frequently, but more importantly he uses them for his own betterment.   Steve sent me a stack of these pocket cards and one immediately caught my attention:  Lincoln’s Tools for Great Communication.

How relevant would his words be in our hyper-electronic world…

Okay, Lincoln lived over 150 years ago and 11 years before telephonic communication was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.   How relevant would his words be in our hyper-electronic world of gadgets designed to help us communicate faster?   Faster, yes…but better?

Here are a few of Lincoln’s communication tools:

  • Precision in word choice with the goal of maximum clarity:  Say exactly what you mean.  Eliminate unnecessary words.  Less is better — Focus on Short.  Get to the point.
  • Have an acute sense of your audience: Know who you are speaking to. If you speak their language you can touch their hearts. Don’t talk over their head or down to them.
  • Never misrepresent or overstate anything:  Intellectual honesty is essential to credibility.
  • When persuading, use an earnest, impassioned tone:  It shows strength and sincerity — but don’t get emotional.
  • Use wit/humor with calculated restraint.  Humor and wit will build rapport with the audience — but don’t try to be a comedian!

These are great tips from one of the greatest communicators in the history of our country.   And even in an age where most of our communication is electronic these tools can still apply just as they did 150 years ago.

One of the most famous speeches / talks ever given by Lincoln was the “Gettysburg Address”.  It took Lincoln less than 5 minutes and contained only 273 words.  Obviously he applied his first communication rule to himself.    His address was delivered after a two-hour oration by Hon. Edward Everett.

In light of our nation’s birthday, please take a moment to ponder Lincoln’s poignant, yet inspiring address…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Happy Independence Day.


Lincolns Tool Box Phil Diment blog photo01 300x200

Phil Diment is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for KBS