The Social Intelligence of Abraham Lincoln

by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Abraham Lincoln’s social intelligence was astonishing.  He was sensitive to other people’s feelings and moods, and he was particularly adept at reading people.  Lincoln had an uncanny knack for understanding the motivations of others.    And he was skillful at getting others to cooperate in pursuing important goals and dreams.  All of these qualities are essential to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s calls “interpersonal intelligence.”

(Gardner is known for his work on multiple intelligences.  Lincoln, incidentally, was probably genius level on another category of Gardner’s taxonomy: verbal-linguistic intelligence.)

Four words can be used to describe Lincoln’s interpersonal relationship skills.  His communication style involved an interplay between verbal-linguistic intelligence and interpersonal intelligence.
AMIABILITY: Lincoln was pleasant and approachable, and avoided letting arguments grow into quarrels.
CHEERFULNESS: Lincoln experienced bouts of deep depression, but he somehow managed to keep his dark moods from destroying his relationships with friends, family, associates, politicians, the military, and the public.  This required enormous will power and emotional strength.
MAGNANIMITY: Lincoln was a fierce fighter for causes that he believed in.  During his early career, he sometimes resorted to petty, viciously personal attacks.  But as he matured, even his enemies conceded that Lincoln was generous in victory and gracious in defeat.
COURTESY: Sophisticates in Washington looked down on Lincoln at first, but gradually they recognized that this unschooled man from the prairies possessed a refined sensibility toward other people’s feelings.

If you are looking for someone with impressive interpersonal skills to model, there are few living or dead who were better at it than Abraham Lincoln. You might want to consider the four highlighted words above as words to live by as your personal guideposts. For in-depth information on the values that guided Lincoln’s personal relationships, read my book “The Words Lincoln Lived By.“

It is not a stretch, nor an exercise in hagiography, to say that Lincoln’s interpersonal intelligence was at genius level.

The Words Lincoln Lived By

“This is a book to cherish and share.”—Bill Marriott, CEO, Marriott International, Inc.

“Not only does Griessman give us Lincoln quotes, but he also weaves each one into a little jewel of an essay on that particular subject.” Wayne C. Temple, renowned Lincoln scholar, Illinois State Archives

A stirring, inspirational treasury of quotations from our greatest and most admired president, the book offers rich material for interpretation, reflection, and spiritual guidance.

You will also enjoy Lincoln Speaks To Leaders by Gene Griessman and Pat Williams.

Don’t leave yet. You’re in a goldmine. Check out the great power phrases and unusual quotations. Why rush off?


Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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