Monday, May 23, 2011

Robert Todd Lincoln and the Ironic

Robert Todd Lincoln has the rather grim distinction of being a kind of Presidential death magnet. Although he wasn’t present at his father’s assassination [he was  in the White House that night playing cards with one of his father’s secretaries] he was an eye witness to Garfield’s assassination in 1881, and was at the same World’s Fair where McKinley was assassinated in 1901. He was also saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth the brother of his father’s killer, John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln parallels

-    with John F. Kennedy
Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846; JFK in 1946
Lincoln was elected President in 1860; JFK in 1960.
Lincoln's successor was his Vice President a Southerner named Johnson born in 1808;
Kennedy’s successor was his Vice President a Southerner named Johnson born in 1908.
-    with Barack Obama
Lincoln was the first President elected from Illinois; Obama the second.
Both were virtually unknown in the country as well as in their respective parties 24 months before they won the White House.
The heir apparent to their party’s presidential nomination was the senator from New York [William Seward and Hillary Clinton respectively] each of whom was then named Secretary of State.
Each had two young children on entering the White House although Lincoln’s two young boys were far more rambunctious – they would burst into Cabinet meetings to jump on their daddy’s lap; they would routinely charge a nickel ‘admission’ to members of the public who wished to see their father during what Lincoln called ‘Public Opinion Baths. Barack Obama’s two young girls, by contrast, have proven to be far more polite.

Abraham Lincoln & Leadership 101

Few leaders had as boundless a capacity to look past personal slights as Abraham Lincoln. In 1855 during the high-profile McCormick-Manny patent infringement case, Lincoln was co-council to the then-famous Edwin Stanton. He got the nod because it was felt that since the case was to be held in what was known as “the West,” a local, and successful trial lawyer from that region might prove useful. However, when Lincoln appeared in Cincinnati at the start of proceedings he was snubbed by Stanton who said he would not work with “such a damned, gawky, long-armed ape as that.”
Seven years later when Lincoln had become President he had to choose a new Secretary of War and went for Stanton – who hadn’t changed a bit: he had even taken to describing the President as “the original gorilla” – [Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species had been published three years earlier]. Lincoln knew what Stanton thought of him, of course, but none of that mattered - holding grudges, he said, just didn’t pay. Besides, Stanton was a Union man through and through, he was a wizard as an administrator, and a prodigious worker. With time the appointment proved to be a stroke of genius. In addition, Lincoln, a Republican, solidified bi-partisan support for the war effort in appointing Stanton, a Democrat, to such a crucial cabinet post.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Toastmasters and the cookie jar

Toastmasters is all about growth, and growth takes you to places you never would have dreamed of. A few years ago I competed in a Toastmaster International speech contest at the Division level. I lost. I was told afterwards it was 7 minutes 34 seconds when 7’ 30” is the max allowed – those four big ones did me in!

The title was intriguing: “Lincoln was a Loser.” The speech was, now that I look back on it, a flawed product. Although succinct and interesting as I thought, the speech was also too much a condensed history lecture.

When I got a job teaching in a state prison the Lincoln connection surfaced yet again [quality, like cream, always manages to make its way to the top, doesn’t it?]. This man proved a wonderful ‘fit’ for guys who, like Lincoln, started out two whispers above zero, so I made Lincoln into a kind of subliminal role model for my students. That led to the book I recently published entitled “Lincoln 365” which, now that I am retired, is the linchpin for a post-retirement public speaking career.

My point is, you don’t learn the art of public speaking at Toastmasters in order to speak at Toastmasters any more than you bake cookies to put them in a cookie jar. There’s a world out there crying for what you and I are passionate about. And if you’re not honoring your own passions, why are you taking up space on this planet?

Arnold Kunst

Does getting speech contest coaching unfairly tilt the playing field?

"What restaurant should I go to?" "Should I marry this person?" "Is my boss being fair to me when he seems so harsh?" 'Should I buy into Linkedin's IPO at this price?" When we ask questions of others, whether we realize it or not we're getting coached.  Getting marital advice from someone divorced ten times sounds really stupid.  On the other hand, if it's a big decision, getting coached by somebody who is an expert in the field sounds really smart. Why should public speaking somehow follow a different rule? If I wish to compete in a Toastmasters speech contest and could convince a World Champion of Public Speaking to give me a few pointers I'd be there in a heartbeat. And if I beat you out as a result, then you should find yourself someone like Darren Lacroix so you could even the playing field. But don't cry in your beer because I found a Darren and you didn't!

Arnold Kunst