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Leadership Lessons from North American Leaders


ThinkstockPhotos-636064846In the spirit of the upcoming U.S. presidential inauguration and the 150th anniversary of Canada, Movin’ On Up takes a look at admirable leadership qualities from iconic North American leaders. From making work/life balance a priority to accepting blame to herding cats, these trailblazers exemplify leadership traits we can all adapt to our career.

Make work/life balance a priority.
Theodore Roosevelt was not only the 26th President of the United States, he was also a father of six children. He was regarded as a powerful, playful father who told ghost stories and had pillow fights with his kids. Even when his schedule was busy, Roosevelt still found time for his family. In fact, in the summer of 1905, Roosevelt took his family on their annual camping trip, even though he was busy preparing for peace talks and consulting about the building of the Panama Canal.

So, what can we learn from the leadership style of Theodore Roosevelt? Simply put, it’s all about the importance of work/life balance. A great leader must be dedicated to his or her work, but finding a balance between career and personal obligations is essential. If you’re determined to make a name for yourself, build your career, or earn a promotion, it’s important to invest a lot of effort into those goals. But, remember to take time for yourself, and your family, to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Accept blame as quickly as you accept praise.
The 33rd President, Harry Truman, had a famous sign on his desk in the Oval Office. It read: “The buck stops here.” This well-known statement, believed to have originated from a game of poker, means that blame cannot be passed from one person to another. In his farewell address in 1953, Truman referred to this famous saying. “The President—whoever he is—has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job,” Truman said.

How does “The buck stops here.” apply to leadership? It means that great leaders must not only make decisions, but also accept responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions. Whether it’s good or bad, leaders must own those outcomes. If you’re in a position of leadership—or you aim to be someday—remember to take responsibility when things don’t go according to plan.

You can’t do everything on your own.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and remains one of the most highly regarded leaders due to his devotion to those he led. It’s believed that Lincoln met every Union soldier who enlisted in the early days of the Civil War, and spent more time outside of the White House than he did in it. According to Time, Lincoln spent 75% of his day meeting with people. And, despite being the leader of America, he maintained an open-door policy.

What made Lincoln’s accessibility such a great leadership trait? He was always trying to obtain the best information in order to make good decisions. He wasn’t resolved to making decisions on his own, and valued the opinions of those around him. If you’re trying to implement a new workplace strategy or starting a new project, consider asking your co-workers for their input. Don’t shy away from the advice of others, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Know how to herd cats.

In 2017, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday. In honour of our Canadian colleagues, our final leadership trait comes from the Great White North.

Canadian biographer Richard Gwyn argues that without Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, there would be no Canada. Sir John A., as he is known, embodied a key leadership trait that still holds true for prime ministers and leaders today—the ability to herd cats. If you’re going to run Canada, which is a much decentralized, diversified country with immense distances and hard weather, huge communication barriers, and an enormity of different interest groups and ethnicities, you have to know how to herd cats. You’ve got to be able to convince people to go along with your vision, to make them believe in what you know is right, and that requires inspiration, skill, art, and determination.

What other leadership lessons can we learn from our North American leaders? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!