Lincoln chose to speak for just about 5 minutes or so for his second inaugural address. The average president takes about 40+ minutes. It was simple in his estimation. The world was coming apart towards the end of the civil war. Every family in every state was touched by death and battle. There was no desire to hear of transportation innovation, or unique programs. There was no desire to hear sweeping and flimsy promises backed by no reality. Instead, Lincoln properly judged that people needed him to be brief, believable, mission oriented, and authentic.
Many considered this moment in time to be an occasion for Lincoln, who had weathered countless attacks on his leadership for much of his first term, to congratulate himself and brag about the string of recent events. At that moment, he was on a bit of a roll as the Union Army was ticking off a series of big wins, and Lincoln was clearly on the precipice of victory. The president, however, took a much different approach. Now everyone knew where the military situation stood, and Lincoln declined to say much more about it: “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.” Lincoln went on to express his belief that God gave America the problem of slavery to solve, and that the nation could only solve it via “this terrible war.” Now, Lincoln continued, "North and South must work hand in hand and together find a place in this new and greater nation for all."
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
My article today has nothing to do with politics really. Lincoln could have taken his 40 minutes of fame, but instead chose 5. Many of you (client partners) reading this article have a series of speeches to give. You have to perhaps tell a large group of people how you plan to handle the many challenging months ahead. You might need to get up and talk about cost reductions. A client partner might need to steady their team and figure out an entire new business strategy. You might need to pivot your business model. Look to Lincoln and this famous and short speech (would encourage you to read it by clicking here) as a source of inspiration. Be brief, be mission oriented, be believable and play some offense too.
Things to try:
Use simple words and cut your slides/words in half from your draft. People can only absorb so many slides/minutes of dense and difficult material. Great client partners are brief.
Be Mission Oriented:
Continue to speak about the "why." Yes, there is bad news to deliver and sacrifice to be made, but in the name of what? Your job is to name it. Figure out your most noble cause and rally around that.
Try and not dribble out bad news. Create one, clear big decisive action. If you always announce "and one more thing" then folks never feel safety.
Find Opportunity even in Crisis:
Don't feel like you must play defense only when in this moment. Offense is acceptable, just with awareness of the pain in the arena.
More than anything else, I just wanted to share this bit of history. I love Lincoln and wish he was around right now, and his 5+ minute speech serves as a reminder that greatness is about great meaning packed into small moments. Lincoln was a master of focusing on the important. I find inspiration in this right now.