It wasn't Abraham Lincoln's strengths but the self-discipline with which he used those strengths for the right purpose.
There is much we can learn by studying Abraham Lincoln's journey from being just another politician to becoming America's greatest president. A key to this transformation was how Lincoln developed the self-discipline to take one of his signature strengths - his mastery of language - and used it to serve the interests of the American people rather than his own.
One of the best communicators of all time
Lincoln was undoubtedly one of the greatest communicators among all American presidents. His words - as a public speaker, writer, debater, humorist, and conversationalist - continue to entertain, educate, and inspire us to this day. With only one year of formal schooling, Lincoln consciously cultivated this mastery of language and expression. As he began forging his political ambitions, Lincoln recognized the power of words to weaken and even destroy his opponents, and so he started to attack them with powerful volleys of criticism and mockery.
How Lincoln began to use words for a higher purpose
But the Lincoln we know as president was not this brash, impulsive politician who launched personal attacks on his opponents. What made him change? Right after the "skinning of Thomas" in 1840, one of his friends reported that "…the recollection of his own conduct that evening filled [Lincoln] with the deepest chagrin. He felt he had gone too far and to rid his good nature of a load, hunted up Thomas and made ample apology." (according to an excerpt in Benjamin Thomas, Lincoln's Humor: An Analysis).
How Lincoln masterfully handled criticism
Lincoln was also a master in handling criticism.
On one occasion, he was informed that the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had refused to execute a presidential order - and further, had called the president a "damn fool." "He called me a damn fool?" Lincoln asked. "Yes! Not once, sir, but twice!" replied the excited congressman, who had brought him this news. "Well, Stanton speaks what is on his mind, and he is usually right about what he speaks, so if he called me a damn fool, I must be a damn fool. I will go to him now and find out why," according to a 2005 Time magazine article The Master of the Game.
What may we learn?
The true measure of a leader lies not in how much we cultivate and exploit our strengths, but in how we work on tapping, in Lincoln's words, the "better angels of our nature" to use our strengths in the service of a cause much higher than our own personal gain.
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