By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to reaffirm your personal leadership style. Reading time: 4:16
Wearing only his pajamas and a bathrobe, he stood on the back of a train. In the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere.
He waved to a couple of hundred well-wishers, saying: “I am sorry I had gone to bed. But, I thought you would like to see what I look like. Even if I didn’t have on — any clothes.”
Two months later Harry S. Truman was elected President of the United States of America.
Yes, the same self-effacing Harry S. Truman — the one-time farmer and failed businessman; the only U.S. President in the 20th Century who did not graduate from college.
Yes, the same Harry S. Truman who grew up a “bespectacled momma’s boy,” and a “sissy who would always run from fights” according to newspaper accounts.
However, Harry S. Truman put up a heck of a fight as a presidential candidate. He defied the pundits and taught all of us a lesson in leadership.
Just check the record books. Truman was five points down in the polls just before election day. And just three weeks before his election, the top 50 reporters covering the presidential race voted AGAINST Truman.
So how did this plain-spoken Missourian pull off the most famous political upset in U.S. presidential campaign history? By being himself.
Be real to close the deal. That’s the leadership lesson Harry S. Truman taught us in overcoming the odds—- personal and professional –to become the nation’s first vice president to ascend to the presidency in a time of war.
Give ‘Em Hell Harry
With no foreign affairs experience and only 83 days in office as vice president before the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman proved to be presidential in his decision-making.
He authorized the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb to end World War. He ended desegregation in the armed forces. And he fought nationwide labor strikes to earn his Give ‘em Hell Harry moniker.
Yet, the media of his day said Truman – all 5-feet-8 and 167 pounds—didn’t fit the image most people have of the leader of the free world.
A reporter said Truman “seemed like a typical small city business man, pleasant and substantial, more at home on Main Street than on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Another reporter observed that Truman ‘is the president and yet he’s just an ordinary family man who has something in common with many who heard him.”
But the media also acknowledged his emotional intelligence, his awareness of himself and his emotions on others. One reporter wrote that there was “an agreeable warm-heartedness and simplicity about Truman that is genuine. “
Another reporter noted that Truman “ got down to earth and talked the language of the people.” In fact, Truman distributed a 16-page comic book biography during his presidential campaign.
Meanwhile Dean Acheson, then assistant secretary of state , observed that Truman was “straightforward, decisive, simple, and entirely honest.”
Pray For Me
Indeed Harry S. Truman embraced who he was. He did not try to obfuscate, or pontificate to hide behind his title or position. He admitted his vulnerabilities– PUBLICLY. On his first day as President of the United States. In the midst of a world war. He asked reporters, crowding into the Oval Office, to pray for him:
“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.
I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a
load of hay fall on you but that’s
what happened to me.
I felt like the moon, the stars and
all the planets had fallen on me.”
A few weeks later a reporter asked Truman to reflect on his reputation as being an average guy. “Do you think you have made being average more acceptable in society?”
Truman rejected the premise of the question and responded: “Well, what’s wrong with being average?”
Nothing. Especially when you are leading BECAUSE OF IT — not in spite of it.
Truman’s sense of being average helped him better connect with the electorate on their terms. He closed the deal by MAKING IT REAL. He stayed on track.
Harry S. Truman trained his mind to stay focused long enough on the problems and concerns of average people in his audience so that he could speak from his heart on the campaign trail without notes for 10-12 minutes.
In the middle of nowhere. In the middle of the night. Even in his pajamas.
Be real to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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