I have just finished reading a leadership book on Lincoln. The goal of this was to do a book club with several of my student leaders to frame how they will be leading this upcoming year. I had read through it once already to propose doing the study for this summer. The entire time I read it I was seeing it through the lens of my relationship to these student leaders and the work they would need to be doing. This second time as I have walked through each section with them, creating discussion questions and themes, I learned something valuable.
Here’s something of value that I have taken away from Lincoln’s leadership style and abilities. He often disagreed with members of his cabinet, congress, and military. He provided direction and guidance, but sometimes that went for naught. To convey his anger and frustration, Lincoln would write letters (remember those? you put them in the mail and sent them to people!). These letters would get out all he wanted to say to the individual: his disappointment, his anger, his mistrust, and his emotions. Here is the kicker though. He never sent them. He would put them in an envelope and put them aside, to focus on the matter of addressing the greater good of the nation (or the issue) rather than the individual.
Lately I have been able to utilize that practice as I have experienced a situation in which I want nothing more than to respond in an emotional state to an individual. While I am not equating my circumstance to the Civil War, it is allowing me to apply rational thought and leadership to this situation, without the emotions behind it. I write and write and write, and I click “Save Draft”. Then I walk away. I leave it there, in that folder.
Because here is what I have learned: If you allow an individual to control your emotions, your responses then they know they have you right where they want you. They can now consistently use the same actions or words to get an emotional rise out of you. When facing an issue, I am realizing more and more the need to stop, write, and then reassess with a clear picture of the larger picture.
For me, there will be far more drafts in my folders than there will be sent messages. The emphasis is owning the words you do choose to use, because once said they can never be taken back. Words once written, define who you are forever.