What makes a good leader? In an increasingly polarized world it’s an important question to ask.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently delivered the commencement address to New York University’s class of 2018, in which he outlined his vision of the leadership skills that help to make the world a better place.
You don’t always have to be right
Though he didn’t mention him by name during his speech, Trudeau’s advice that you don’t have to win every argument stood in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s leadership style.
“It’s been pointed out that one of the many differences between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis was that Davis preferred to win a debate, while Lincoln would rather win the war.
“And that’s the question: do you want to win an argument or do you want to change the world?” he asked the group of graduates, 180 of whom are Canadian.
Find common ground
Trudeau said that it is critical to listen to others, particularly those from a different background and with different experience. The job of a leader is to find the common good, not to protect their own tribe, he said.
“We are not going to arrive at mutual respect, which is where we solve common problems, if we cocoon ourselves in an ideological, social or intellectual bubble.
“But for us to move forward, to keep moving and moving forward, we have to do it together – all together. Humanity has to fight our tribal mindset.”
He advised the graduates: “As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own. I would like you to listen to them, truly listen, and try to understand them, and find that common ground.”
Bring people together
He added that the world needs “leadership that brings people together. That brings diversity to a common cause.
“This is the antithesis of the polarization, the aggressive nationalism, the identity politics that have grown so common of late.”
Trudeau has made it his mission to promote diversity and inclusivity. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018, he said the gains from the Fourth Industrial Revolution should be available to everyone, and that it is up to leaders to make that happen.
“Leadership should be focused on extending the ladder of opportunity for everyone,” he said. “In today’s context, this means ensuring that the gains of new technology are evenly spread to benefit society and build a broad middle class.
“Technology needs to serve the cause of human progress.”
He has also spoken at Davos about the importance of gender parity, telling the Annual Meeting 2016 that he was raising his daughter and his sons to be feminists. (When asked to explain his decision to create Canada’s first cabinet with equal numbers of men and women, Trudeau famously retorted: “Because it’s 2015!”)
“Positive leadership creates a virtuous circle,” he said, adding: “People can respond to a positive, inclusive vision of society. The result is creativity that enriches Canada and the world.”