This week, President Donald Trump took on critics who say he doesn't act "presidential" enough. "With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office," Trump said at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio.
While it's hard to define what the 44th president means by "presidential," a longstanding C-SPAN poll on Americans' perceptions of "best presidents" looks at several key attributes, including "public persuasion," "vision/setting an agenda" and "moral authority." It's probably not surprising that Lincoln is in the top 5 in all those categories. (Other highly ranked presidents include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt.)
All this made me think about what Abraham Lincoln would think about Donald Trump. And then I recalled one of Lincoln's most memorable quotes:
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
There's no doubt in my mind that, if Lincoln could have a word with our current president, he would advise Trump to hold his tongue (and tweets) rather than running his mouth.
Even though Lincoln has a well-deserved reputation as an effective orator, he also understood that great leaders know when to speak and when to remain silent. Persuasive leaders have a strong sense of timing. They not only choose their words carefully--they choose when to share their points of view and when to step back and be quiet.
Lincoln couldn't have anticipated today's technology, but he had an unerring instinct for effective communication. As Lincoln said, "In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."
What else could Lincoln tell Trump about leadership? Here are just a few words of wisdom:
"Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm."
"Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."
"If you want to test a man's character, give him power."
"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure."