Leadership: My PR Lesson from Abraham Lincoln

My aunt has always been fascinated by the Civil War. Me, I’ve always enjoyed learning about the War, but my interest never really grew past watching an occasional documentary on TV. Despite my indifference, I suppose I still might know a little more about the Civil War than the average Joe. It’s something I can no doubt attribute to my aunt. As a kid, I can remember her trips vividly, like the time she challenged a historian at Andersonville about many of the facts he shared during our tour of the former Union prison camp.

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this year, I have found myself digging into facts, stories and images surrounding the War of the States—more specifically, the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. My newfound interest is something that would no doubt bring a tear to my aunt’s eye, but I digress. Over the last few weeks, I have tuned in to PBS to watch a six-part series called “A House Divided” that looks into the life of our 16th president and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Not satisfied by the documentary, I have also started reading “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, for a little more insight into this great leader.

While watching the documentary and reading the book, two things become abundantly clear to me, Abraham Lincoln was born to be a leader and many of his attributes were applicable to my life as a PR practitioner. At a recent Lincoln Symposium, Goodwin, one of the most respected Lincoln historians, offered 10 qualities that made Lincoln a great leader. I am interested in five in particular, and how I can apply them to my life in the world of PR.

Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View: Each day we are faced with many different decisions. Should we proceed with sending out a press release as scheduled or provide a reporter with an exclusive? Should we pitch something on Monday or perhaps wait until later in the week to get the ultimate impact in terms of impressions? Often times, members of a PR team have differing points of view as to how to accomplish a specific task. It is important to hear everyone’s insight before settling on an outcome. You never know who has the next great idea.

Ready Willingness to Share Credit or Blame: In the world of PR, there are many highs and at times lows. On one occasion, I was able to secure a front page story in a major daily newspaper. While my boss was excited that our client received such great coverage and wanted to pass along all of the credit to me, I was quick to point out that it was a team effort, which was very much appreciated by my colleagues. Guess what, a few weeks later my colleague scored a great hit and passed along the credit to the entire team as well. It was a great reminder that team camaraderie is very important when you are working to achieve your goals.

Ability to Communicate Goals and Visions: There is nothing more important as a PR practitioner than the ability to share information. Whether it is with a client, colleague or reporter, having the ability to get across what you are trying to say in a succinct fashion is of paramount importance.

Know How to Relax and Replenish: According to CareerCast, public relations officer is the second most stressful job in the country—only commercial airline pilot ranked higher. For me, it is important to find ways to relieve stress, whether it be reading, exercising or spending time with my family. Each gives me an opportunity to refuel and come to work prepared to get down to business every day.

Awareness of Own Weaknesses: Working as a member of a team allows us the opportunity to play to individuals’ strengths. While one team member might be able to write the all-time greatest press release, their phone skills might be lacking. While you won’t always be able to avoid acting in your areas of weakness when you work with a team, you can often focus on what each individual does best and avoid what each does worst.

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