The Human Truman – Identity and Leadership

iStock_000021048497_SmallHarry Truman and I share one thing  – we like Key West.

This week I toured The Little White House in Key West, Florida, a vacation escape for President Harry Truman and a refuge for when he needed to think.  Our Vice-President for 83 days until F.D.R. passed away, Harry Truman became President of the United States under circumstances no one would envy. Following the longest serving President, World War II ending in Europe but continuing with Japan, and setting a world order that still prevails today were just portions of the agenda to start Truman’s time in office.

Truman’s presidency began amidst a series of forces that would take anyone under, and Truman was no different. Bothered by a chronic cough and fatigued, the President’s doctor ordered a vacation within months in office and after a few conversations President Truman found himself in Key West.

Good call.

In Key West, Truman changed. On doctor’s orders he had a shot of bourbon first thing in the morning – not great advice but by all means the island life. He played poker with advisors, Supreme Court justices, leading cultural influencers, and others. He fished with his wife. In other words, he was one of us. In fact, the press who met with him called Truman in Key West, The Human Truman.

The best leaders take time to be themselves. It gives us identity and courage.

Interestingly, Harry Truman left office the most unpopular  President we have ever had –  just 22% approved of his leadership upon his leaving. During his time as President he fired General Douglas MacArthur and racially integrated federal hiring policies. These decisions made him extremely unpopular with the electorate of his day. Yet in ours, he is remembered as one of our nation’s best.

iStock_000014181094_SmallHe is remembered so because he made the courageous call.

Right decisions rarely are popular. Any celebration of truths we honor today recalls a time where those truths were fought for by others. Leaders, true leaders, are those who are willing to sacrifice in order to stand for what is right in the long term.

As a Christian, Jesus is this principle at work. Jesus died abandoned. He was the one willing to take on execution and the venomous anger and hate that came with it, knowing in the long run his stand was worth taking. While it is far beyond my ability to grasp how Jesus made such a decision, he gave us a clue.

The Scriptures tell us: Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16

What did Jesus find there? Identity. He knew who he was. And with identity, comes courage – knowing who we are speaks to what we are to doBy taking time away to pray, rest, and think, Jesus found the strength to do what was right by connecting the humanness of who he was with the right he was called to do.

You and I must do the same. Take time away to discover who you are and you will know the leadership the Lord needs from you.


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