Just finished a wonderful book, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book focuses on how Abraham Lincoln built his cabinet. Instead of choosing cronies and old pals, Lincoln’s choices included three of his major rivals for the 1860 presidential nomination, William Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon Chase. None of these men thought Lincoln was presidential material, and, in fact, he was considered a light-weight who was not prepared for the job.

Lincoln won them over – especially Seward – by genuinely and methodically building his relationships with them. In fact, relationship-building encounters were a key to Lincoln’s success, whether it was at the highest political echelons or meeting the troops at the front. (Chase was the toughest relationship in the cabinet for Lincoln, but that was due more to Chase’s awkwardness with personal relationships than it was to anything Lincoln did.)

What’s especially interesting is that Lincoln was very successful at building relationships from afar, through letters and telegrams. I’m often asked, in speeches and workshops, if the proliferation of electronic communications – text messages, emails, instant messages, etc. – are making it harder for us to have human encounters. The truth is that it’s now easier to connect with people who aren’t nearby. Sure, electronic communication can be a crutch, but people can respond immediately to text messages, and you can instantly be in a dialogue with someone a continent away just by dialing their cell phone. And, of course, air travel makes it possible for us to include more in-person encounters in our relationships than was possible mid-nineteenth century.

We can learn from Mr. Lincoln. Every interaction can be a relationship-building encounter, if we genuinely believe that relationship building is at the center of what we need and want to do.

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