Many of you know that I am a voracious reader. One of the things I enjoy is watching a football or basketball game on TV with a book in my lap. I mostly read about leadership—In the world of sports, politics, business and the church. Due to the fact that I’m a leader developer, I’m motivated to learn all I can about helping to develop, equip and empower leaders so they finish their race well. I do this through coaching, teaching (leadership seminars) and writing. On the book side, I like to read books in the 250-300 page range.
Recently a dear and long-time friend of mine recommended a book about President Harry S Truman which he thought I would enjoy. The problem was that it was over 1,000 pages. I bit the bullet. I learn so much about the 33rd President of the United States and got some incredible insight into his leadership.
Here are some of my highlights from “Truman” by David McCullough.
Each statement is about Truman unless I mention another person.
A prayer Truman often prayed for many years:
Oh! Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of Heaven, Earth and the Universe: Help me to be, to think, to act what is right, because it is right; make me truthful, honest and honorable in all things; make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor and without thought of reward to me. Give me the ability to be charitable, forgiving and patient with my fellow men—help me to understand their motives and their shortcomings—even as Thou understandest mine! Amen, Amen, Amen.
Three things ruin a man, Harry would tell a reporter long afterward. Power, money, and women. I never wanted power, he said. I never had any money, and the only woman in my life is up at the house right now.
Hinde remembered that a blond woman in a negligée opened the door at a hotel room reserved for him. Harry spun on his heels and ran back down the hall, disappearing around the corner. Hinde thought it was a fear verging on the abnormal. He just didn’t want any women around his room in a hotel. He had a phobia on it.
On a trip to Europe a younger man serving him offered to provide a woman for his pleasure if he so desired. Listen, son, I married my sweetheart, Truman said. She doesn’t run around on me, and I don’t run around on her. I want that understood. Don’t ever mention that kind of stuff to me again.
Since childhood at my mother’s knee, I have believed in honor, ethics and right living as its own reward. I find a very small minority who agree with me on that premise. Speaking of a certain leader he said, He’s not true to his wife and a man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other.
I’m perfectly willing to be cussed if I’m right.
By his own staff, by others on his committees, he was perceived as dogged, productive, respectful of the opinion of others, good-natured, and extremely likable.
Never in all the years that I (his assistant) worked for him did I ever see him lose his temper. He was always soft-spoken and very considerate with his staff. She remembered no salty language either, never ever if women were present.
Harry Truman was inclined to see things in far simpler terms, as right or wrong, wise or foolish. He dealt little in abstractions. His answers to questions, even complicated questions, were nearly always direct and assured, plainly said, and followed often by a conclusive, and that’s all there is to it.
He had always been a man of his word.
He welcomed their advice (his staff). He did not doubt that they would differ with him if they felt it necessary, but final decisions would be his and he expected their support once decisions were made.
He is honest and patriotic and has a head full of good horse sense. Besides, he has guts, wrote John Nance Garner to Sam Rayburn.
For all his reluctance ever to fire anyone, could not tolerate what he called “Potomac Fever,” which he described as a prevalent, ludicrous Washington disease characterized by a swelling of the head to abnormal proportions.
The President impressed him as someone who knew who he was and liked who he was.
“He was direct, unpretentious, clear-thinking and forceful.” He was out of bed and dressed by 5:30 or 6:00 regularly every morning and needed no alarm clock or anyone to wake him.
He kept insisting on results, not talk, something in the bag at the end of every day, as Churchill observed.
The chief difference between Truman and Roosevelt was that Truman paid much less attention to what his actions were doing towards his chances for reelection.
He would be guided by a simple idea: To do in all cases , without regard to political considerations, what seems to me to be for the welfare of all our people.
He had a reputation for hard work and standing by principle. His knowledge and ability to cut to the heart of an issue were considered second to none in the Senate.
Sometimes he (General George C Marshall) would sit for an hour with little or no expression on his face, but when he had heard enough, he would come up with a statement of his own that would invariably cut to the very bone of the matter under discussion.
Murphy particularly admired Truman’s gift for simplification. Not only could he simplify complex matters, he could also keep simple matters simple.
What I wanted to do personally for my own comfort and benefit was not important. What I could do to contribute to the welfare of the country was important. I had to enter the 1948 campaign for the presidency.
I can’t approve of such goings on and I shall never approve of it, as long as I am here. I am going to try to remedy it and if that ends up in my failure to be reelected, that failure will be in a good cause.
The morale of the department is usually higher when the President is a man who is not afraid to make difficult decisions and who is prepared to accept the responsibilities that flow from such decisions.
As Churchill had observed at Potsdam, Truman was a man of immense determination
Truman welcomed other people’s ideas. He was not afraid of the competition of other ideas. He was free of the greatest vice in a leader. His ego never came between him and his job.
There is a lure in power (Truman noted) . It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do. Principle, principle, must always be above personality and it must be above expediency.
What he (Truman) said was that the greatest part of a President’s responsibilities was making decisions. A President had to decide, that’s his job.