5 Things Harry S. Truman Can Teach Us About Leadership

Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, is widely considered one of the most effective leaders in American history. His presidency was marked by numerous challenges, including the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, and the Korean War. Despite these challenges, Truman’s leadership style and unwavering commitment to his principles continue to inspire people today. This article will explore five things that Truman can teach us about leadership.

1. Be Humble

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Harry S. Truman

One of Truman’s defining traits was his humility. Despite being the President of the United States, Truman didn’t let his position go to his head. He was known for his down-to-earth personality and ability to connect with people from all walks of life. This humility allowed Truman to be a great listener, which helped him make informed decisions he believed were in the country’s best interests.

Consider Truman’s visit to the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. At the conference, Truman met with Churchill and Stalin to discuss the future of Europe and the world (no pressure). Despite being in the presence of two of the most powerful leaders in the world, Truman remained humble and respectful. He listened attentively to the concerns of both Churchill and Stalin and took their opinions into account when making decisions.

Humility is just as necessary today as it was during Truman’s presidency. Humble leaders are more likely to be good listeners and to make informed decisions. They are also more likely to be respected by others, which is crucial in building strong relationships and getting things done.

2. Be a Student of History

“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

Harry S. Truman

Truman was a student of history and understood the importance of learning from the past. He believed that by studying the actions of previous leaders, he could avoid making the same mistakes and find ways to be a better leader. Truman often quoted historical figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson.

Truman was well-versed in the history of Soviet aggression and the communist ideology, and he understood the threat posed by the Soviet Union to the free world.

Truman responded to Soviet aggression by implementing the Truman Doctrine, which provided military and economic aid to countries threatened by communism. He also helped to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance between the United States and its European allies to counter the Soviet threat.

This example shows how Truman used his knowledge of history to respond to a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape. By understanding the history of Soviet aggression and the threat posed by communism, Truman was able to take decisive action to protect American interests and defend the free world. This is a lesson for leaders today, who must also be able to anticipate and respond to emerging threats in a rapidly changing world.

Leaders who are students of history are more likely to make informed decisions and to understand the long-term consequences of their actions. By studying the past, leaders can gain a deeper understanding of the world and make decisions that are in the best interests of their constituents.

3. Be Patient

Truman was known for his patience and his ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. He understood that leadership requires patience and the ability to think things through before making decisions. Truman was also known for his ability to delegate responsibilities, which allowed him to focus on the bigger picture and make decisions that were in the country’s best interests.

When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman faced a difficult decision. He could have responded with force, likely escalating the conflict. Instead, Truman chose to be patient and seek a diplomatic solution. He sent negotiators to the talks and ultimately secured a ceasefire that ended the war.

Patient leaders are more likely to make informed decisions and avoid rash actions that could have negative consequences. By thinking things through and delegating responsibilities, leaders can focus on the bigger picture and make decisions that are in the best interests of those they serve.

4. Be Willing to Make Unpopular Decisions for the Greater Good

Truman was not afraid to make unpopular decisions, even when they were politically risky. He understood that leadership sometimes requires making tough choices that may not be popular in the short-term but are necessary for the greater good. Truman was known for his honesty and commitment to doing what he felt was right, even if it was not politically expedient.

Truman’s willingness to make unpopular decisions is best illustrated by his desegregation of the military. In 1948, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the armed forces. This decision was unpopular with many Americans and was politically risky. Still, Truman believed that it was the right thing to do. He thought that all Americans should be able to serve their country, regardless of race.

In today’s modern world, leaders willing to make unpopular decisions for the greater good are more likely to be respected and trusted by those they serve. Leaders can make a lasting impact and leave a positive legacy by putting the greater good above their own personal interests.

5. Accept Accountability for Your Words and Actions

“The buck stops here.”

Harry S. Truman

Truman was known for his strong sense of responsibility and willingness to accept accountability for his words and actions. He understood that as the President of the United States, he was accountable to the American people and that his actions had consequences. Truman was not afraid to admit he was wrong and to take responsibility for his mistakes.

In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded the city of Berlin in an attempt to force the Western Allies to abandon the city. Truman responded by launching the Berlin Airlift, which delivered supplies to the city and broke the blockade. Despite the success of the airlift, Truman accepted responsibility for the situation and took steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Leaders who accept accountability for their words and actions are more likely to be respected and trusted by those they serve. By taking responsibility for their mistakes and admitting when they are wrong, leaders demonstrate their integrity and build trust with those they serve.

Book Recommendation

I highly recommend David McCullough’s biography “Truman” for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of Harry S. Truman and his legacy. The book provides a comprehensive and nuanced look at Truman’s life, from his humble beginnings on a Missouri farm to his time in office as one of the most consequential presidents in American history. Through extensive research and meticulous attention to detail, McCullough provides a nuanced and well-rounded portrait of Truman, illuminating his strengths, weaknesses, and the challenges he faced during his presidency. McCullough’s writing is insightful and engaging, bringing Truman’s life and presidency to life in vivid detail. Whether you are a student of history or simply a curious reader, “Truman” is a must-read for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of this remarkable leader and his impact on the world.

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Key Takeaway

Harry S. Truman was a great leader who left a lasting impact on the world. His humility, commitment to studying history, patience, willingness to make unpopular decisions for the greater good and acceptance of accountability are lessons we can all learn from and apply in our lives. Whether in a leadership role or not, these principles can help us be better people and positively impact the world around us.

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