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I once saw these statements posted on the marques of two different churches:

  • Don’t pretend to be who you don’t intend to be.
  • Who are you when no one is watching?

LThose statements have stuck with me. Who are we when no one is looking? Is our public persona different from our real self? A look into our private affairs can put some flesh on our real persona. This is especially true when we least expect it; especially if we’re dead. Such a thing happened to Abraham Lincoln, 111 years after his death. Today on the 150th anniversary of his assassination, we peer again.

In 1976 the Library of Congress, with a group of officials and newsmen, opened a sealed box that contained the contents of Mr. Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater.

The box has been passed down through Mr. Lincoln’s descendants and apparently hadn’t been opened for decades.

The contents were a pretty plain mix. Two pair of eyeglasses. A single cufflink with an “L.” A wallet with nine newspaper clippings. A $5 Confederate bill. A watch fob. A penknife. And a handkerchief embroidered with “A. Lincoln.” There is a touch of the politician here: the newspaper clippings all had kind words to say about Mr. Lincoln and the cause of the union.

current $5 bill

current $5 bill

But beyond that the contents speak almost to a plain man. Why two pair of eyeglasses? One was apparently broken and Mr. Lincoln tried to fix the temple piece with string. But what happened to the other cufflink? What was he doing with a $5 Confederate bill? (Kind of ironic, considering who adorns the $5 note today.) And who embroidered the “A. Lincoln” on his handkerchief?

Looking into the effects of a man who doesn’t expect examination is a harsh test. But there is nothing in Mr. Lincoln’s box of effects to shake our confidence in him.

Would we feel as comfortable looking into the pockets of some recent presidents or would be presidents? Or, for that matter, our friends or they of us? Would we be comfortable having someone look unexpectedly into our private affairs? Our pockets, perhaps. But what about our hard drives, or iPads or iPhones? Are there things there that we would be embarrassed if suddenly exposed to the scrutiny of everyone?

Leadership Lessons

  1. It’s okay to keep “clippings” that favor you…we all need to read such at times.
  2. Practicing congruency is the best policy—there’s nothing in Lincoln’s pockets to question our perception of his public persona.
  3. Sometimes we have to use what we have at hand (string repair of glasses) to fix it.
  4. Even so, it’s good to have a back-up (spare glasses).
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