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Harry S. Truman LeadershipHarry S. Truman Leadership


Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)


American president 1945-53 (pictured right), who approved the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War.

Created the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and supported the creation of Israel in 1948.


Why was he a great leader?


1. Purpose

Truman wanted to help poorer Americans (his “Fair Deal”). For example, he

  • was the first president to recommend Medicare (free medical care for the poor)
  • stoutly supported civil rights for African Americans, even at the expense of his popularity.

Truman also stoutly defended America's interests abroad. For example, he:


a) supported the policy of “containment” 

(against Russian and Chinese communists).

This led to: Harry S. Truman Leadership

  • America’s involvement in the Korean War in 1950 (pictured right).
  • its support of French rule in Vietnam.


b) created NATO (the National Atlantic Treaty Organization)

This is an alliance between West European countries

A big success was the Berlin Airlift in 1948, which dropped supplies by aeroplane to West Berlin, blockaded by the Russians.


c) introduced the Marshall Plan

This far-sightedly gave  West European countries money to rebuild their economies after the Second World War

Truman cleverly told Congress that this would stop the spread of communism.  


d) approved the use of atomic bombs

(to end World War Two - see point 2).


2. Courage and toughness


  Harry S. Truman Leadership

a) had the courage to make terribly difficult decisions

(like dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima ,pictured right, and Nagasaki in 1945 after being advised that half a million Americans would die in an invasion of Japan).


b) knew that being president wasn’t an easy job

(resolutely resisting the hysterical anti-communist witch-hunt led by Senator Joe McCarthy - called McCarthyism).

  Harry S. Truman Leadership

c) fired the hugely popular General Douglas MacArthur (pictured right)

(after refusing his request to invade China and use atomic bombs in the Korean War).


“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” was one of his favourite sayings.



3. Determination

He was not deterred by: Harry S. Truman Leadership

  • disappointment or criticism (the Korean War, made him very unpopular).
  • the unexpected shock of becoming president after the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt (pictured together right in 1944).

His determination and “give ’em hell, Harry” campaign also won him the 1948 presidential election after being way behind in the opinion polls.

He never gave up and was always optimistic, despite calling the Presidency “hell” and describing the White House as the “finest prison in the world”.


4. Responsibility and action

He knew he was responsible for everything that went right or wrong in his administration.

“The buck stops here” was the sign on his desk.

So he always took decisive action, when necessary, however difficult or painful the decision e.g. dropping the atomic bombs on Japan.

“There’s more in acting than in talking”, he said.

  Harry S. Truman Leadership

5. Learning and support

He was a good listener and greatly helped by:

  • two great government ministers, Dean Acheson (pictured right) and George Marshall 
  • his wife Bess (pictured right below at their wedding in 1919), who was better than him at assessing people’s character and trustworthiness.  Harry S. Truman Leadership

He also had a great sense of history, learning from America’s past leaders like Abraham Lincoln and concluding that human nature stays the same despite changing circumstances.


6. Integrity

His character was his biggest strength, believing in honesty, compassion, and honour.

He was tough, but he treated his staff with great kindness and humour, and they responded with enormous respect and wholehearted commitment. Harry S. Truman Leadership

“A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it”, he said.

His hero was Robert E. Lee (pictured right), also famous for his integrity.


7. Humility

He was a down-to-earth guy without arrogance, who never forgot his humble origins in Missouri.


8. Simplification

Truman could simplify complex matters and keep simple matters simple.

  Harry S. Truman Leadership

9. Success from failure

He recovered from financial failure after returning from the First World War, and his innocent association, as a judge, with Tom Prendergast (pictured together right), convicted of tax evasion in 1939.

As vice president, Truman still went to his funeral as a mark of respect.



10. Hard work and support

He passionately believed in doing his best and worked virtually every waking moment during his presidency.



Key quotes on influence

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.


Key quotes on leadership

A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.

I never give them [the public] hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.

Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep riding or be swallowed.

A president cannot always be popular.


Key quote on politics and government

Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to govern himself with reason and justice.


Key quote on economics

It’s a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.


 Key quote on positive thinking

A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.


Key quotes on decision making

Whenever it comes time to make a decision, I make it and forget about it.

I am here to make decisions, and whether they prove right or wrong, I am going to make them.


Key quote on business ethics

There never was, never has been, never will be, room for the ruthless exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few


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