Challenge Your Thinking I – What Really Happened Next

Confident, Lincoln obliged the calls for comments. He stood tall and straight and said with a grin, “I hear you had the Rebels here last summer [meaning four months ago]. Did you fight them any?”

The crowd of people stared at him. Silent. Cold. Resentful.

After all, where had Lincoln been during those horrible, bloody days? Was it his farm that was plundered? His family member that died or was wounded? His life that had been cast into a hell-on-earth for days on end?

Bones of the dead were still visible in November, and here was Lincoln, master communicator, half-acting as if something was funny. Glib was the wrong thing to be.

Sensing what he had done, Lincoln said nothing more, waved weakly, and ducked back into the train. Though I can’t prove it, I guarantee you that he sat down with a troubled look on his face, feeling badly about what he’d said just seconds ago.

That’s leadership in the real world. You sometimes rely on the wrong strength at the wrong time. Lincoln had every reason to be confident in his ability to communicate, to connect with people. And so, not surprisingly, he played to his strength. But he mistakenly thought they were in a mood to be somewhat boastful. They were not. Here, on the eve of a cemetary ceremony and on the heels of a horrific battle, they were somber.

One more thing about real-world leadership. Lincoln has to shake it off, not dwell on the awful mistake he had just made. He had the next big thing coming less than 18 hours ahead. The President was on the agenda to say a few words at the cemetary dedication at noonish, the next day. Lincoln still had a speech to finish, to polish, to add that last little piece.

Before I leave you, think about today. One thing that would be different now–and this affects you directly as a leader–is that an incident like the one at the Hanover Train Depot would be instantly captured and broadcast on YouTube, Facebook, the Internet, and our 24-hour-a-day media beast. Know what? Lincoln could have handled it. He would have said that he had made a terrible mistake, one of six dozen since Monday. And that would have been the end of it.

Learn from Lincoln. All the best, Dan