5 Emotional Intelligence Tips We Can Learn From One Of America’s Wisest Leaders

Sure, Abraham Lincoln was a great leader. But what can the 16th president teach us about emotional intelligence? A whole lot it turns out.

5 Emotional Intelligence Tips We Can Learn From One Of America’s Wisest Leaders
[Image: Flickr user Lima Pix]

When asked to rank American Presidents, scholars consistently have ranked Abraham Lincoln amongst the top three, and when ranked on leadership, he is usually ranked number one.


It is well known that Lincoln became successful despite overcoming many barriers such as poverty, loss of family members, failure in business and politics, and lack of education.

The reasons for his success have been widely debated, and there is good evidence to suggest that Lincoln possessed a high level of emotional intelligence that allowed him to overcome countless obstacles that would have stopped most people.

Here are five areas in which Lincoln excelled:

1. Keeping vision in constant focus

Keeping his eye on what he was working toward allowed Lincoln to set aside personal differences, egos, and personal ambition and continually work towards an end that he envisioned.


To do this he needed to have the best people around him, despite the fact that many of them disagreed with him and publicly criticized him.

As he was constantly being challenged, he had to forgo the need to be right and put his ego and personal feelings aside for the betterment of others and his country. If others came up with better ideas and solutions, he was always ready to listen and change his mind if he needed to.

2. Ability to manage his emotions

When challenged, as he often was, by subordinates Lincoln was able to able to channel his emotions and not retaliate or lash out in anger. Instead, he used letters as a way of diffusing his anger.

When Lincoln felt anger he would write a letter and not send it until he had a chance to cool off, usually the day after. In most cases he did not send the letter as he had calmed down and saw that acting on his emotions would not be of any real benefit, but rather result in more acrimony.

3. Listening and communicating

Lincoln was a great listener, and the people who were in contact with him always felt heard, even though he did not always agree with them.

He had a knack for speaking in plain language and was a great storyteller. He never spoke above his audience, and he used metaphors to make his point in ways that his listeners understood and appreciated. He had the ability to take complex ideas and put them into terms that everyone was able to grasp.


Awareness of the needs and feelings of others

Lincoln had the ability to bring people of differing opinions together and was a great mediator; he had the ability to mend fences with his enemies.

At the end of the Civil War he went to great lengths to not humiliate a defeated enemy through his words and actions. He treated their leader, General Lee, with dignity and allowed the Confederate soldiers to return home with all of their possessions apart from their weapons. He resisted calls from some members of his cabinet and others to deal harshly with the South and rather focused on ways that he could heal old wounds.

Flexibility, Humility, and the Ability to learn from mistakes

Lincoln was known for his open attitude and willingness to listen to new ideas, especially those that were different from his own.

He had the self-awareness and humility to recognize that he was fallible and that there were others that had knowledge and information that was better than his own.

When he made mistakes, he neither tried to hide or deny them. Instead of dwelling on them, he acknowledged them and moved on as quickly as possible.


About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to