Byron's Babbles

Leading With Intellectual Honesty

I am reading a great book right now that is super hard to put down every time I get a chance to sit down and do some reading. The book is by one of my favorite Presidents, Harry S. Truman. Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings Of Harry S. Truman. This great book was published by President Truman’s daughter, Mary Margaret Truman Daniel. Although the book is entirely written by President Truman, with the exception of the introduction, he did not want it published till after he and the former First Lady, Bess Truman, had both passed away. The reason was that he is very critical of some of the presidents before and after him and did not want his thoughts released while he was alive. In the book, our 33rd U.S. President gave his “cut to the chase” theories and opinions on leadership and what it takes to be a great leader. He even gave his picks for best and worst presidents and, in detail, defended his reasoning.

It would seem that my post today is to promote the book, but really that is not the case. Although, I would recommend reading the book. I was intrigued by a comment President Truman made in the book when arguing that the appearance, height, or stature of President has nothing to do with greatness. President Truman said:

“A president has got to have qualifications to do the job that he’s supposed to do. He has got to be honest. Particularly, he’s got to be intellectually honest, and if he isn’t, it doesn’t make any difference what kind of appearance he makes. In the long run, his good looks or good public presence doesn’t amount to anything because he’ll do a bad job, and he’ll be found out. Or even worse, as I’ve been pointing out in this book, some presidents go into the presidency and don’t do any kind of job at all.” ~ Harry S. Truman in Where The Buck Stops (Kindle Location 1369 of 6958)

I bolded the term that intrigued me: “intellectually honest” or intellectual honesty. What is intellectual honesty? It means always seeking the truth regardless of whether or not it agrees with your own personal beliefs. President Truman was reminding us that the great leaders approach problems and decision-making as rationally as possible. In other words we make arguments we believe are true as opposed to arguments we are supposed to by popular opinion or public pressure. We should not be afraid to show vulnerability or admit when we are wrong or don’t not know something. Probably a President, more than anyone else, can appreciate that facts and information may likely change, requiring a shift in execution.

The best leaders I have observed have the curiosity to learn and improve — and an innate desire to create, innovate, iterate, and discover better and more efficient ways of doing things. When great leaders see change as an opportunity for growth they are able to pivot and execute effectively. We must work really hard to not cover up what we don’t know, or let personal beliefs interfere with our pursuit of the truth. As President Truman pointed out, this is not easy. We must continually work at it.

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