4 leadership lessons we can take from Justin Trudeau


According to Salt columnist and author of the Changemaker Toolkit, Alex Budak, the breakout star of last month’s elite Davos gathering was, without a doubt, new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While I’m not a fan of the aristocratic nature of the summit, there’s no doubt that the conference puts a spotlight on global trends. So, when Justin Trudeau wins the praise of politicians and business leaders from around the world, it’s worth looking at why (and, although I am a big fan of them, it’s not just his colorful socks).

What makes Justin Trudeau a leader who many follow?

There are four lessons I believe we all can learn from Trudeau’s leadership.

1. Emotional Intelligence Matters

Without a doubt, between the technologists and economists in Davos, the median IQ was off the charts. But it’s not Trudeau’s IQ that’s getting attention — it’s his emotional intelligence, or EQ. Though John Oliver humorously mocked political commentators claiming Trudeau had higher EQ than IQ, it’s his empathy and relational abilities that are driving his success.

As Rosie Linder, Founder and CEO of PeppyPals (a brilliant app which teaches emotional intelligence and empathy to children aged 2–6) is fond of saying: though our society tends to value IQ over EQ, it’s actually EQ that is a huge determinant in one’s success. Trudeau is proving this to be true. He may or may not have his father’s IQ (his father is regarded as one of Canada’s most intellectual Prime Ministers ever), but it’s clear Justin has an exceedingly high EQ, which is driving much of his success.

2. Diversity is a Strength

One of the first things Trudeau did as Prime Minister was to announce his Cabinet, which “looks like Canada.” His cabinet is half men, half women, with two Sikhs and two Aboriginal members. It has an openly gay member, three members born outside of Canada and one who is blind. For years, politicians around the world have built cabinets which — more or less — are built in the imagine of its leader. Trudeau takes a different approach, saying his goal is simply to “surround himself with brilliant people.” Many politicians talk a good game when it comes to diversity, but Trudeau — in one of his very first decisions — took action on it.

3. Humility

Let’s be clear, politics is not a game for the humblest among us. But as far as politicians go, Trudeau is refreshingly humble on both a personal level, and in his leadership of the country. In an interview, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria pushed Trudeau to envision his brand of politics going global. Trudeau refrained, saying that his focus was chiefly on Canada and making it as great as it can be. He rejected Zakaria’s push to use Canada as a global, ego-centric podium, and instead — in humble Canadian fashion — Trudeau said he would let the world take whatever it liked about his approach in Canada, to use in their countries.

Too often as leaders we buy into self-centered visions of grandiosity, when really we would do better to simply focus on what we can control ourselves; and trust that if we do a good enough job, others will want to follow. It requires humility to relinquish that control — but in so doing, as Trudeau exemplifies, it makes it that much more likely others will be drawn by our pull, rather than begrudgingly following our push.

4. Positivity

Especially in contrast to outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Trudeau’s campaigning and governing is marked by an incredibly positive tone. While most of Europe and the US has been fearing refugees and closing their borders, Trudeau not only welcomed refugees; he went to the airport to welcome Canada’s first Syrian refugees as they arrived in the country. Where others saw potential problems and concerns, Trudeau led through a lens of seeing what is possible.

It’s a lesson I first learned from the incredible social entrepreneur Hildy Gottlieb, of Creating the Future. She says, “we know that a better world is possible simply because we know it is not impossible.” Trudeau sees in line with Gottlieb — he paints a picture for a better Canada and invites others to join. His positivity creates an umbrella under which a diverse group can assemble and thrive.

In many ways, Trudeau exemplifies a new style of leadership for a rapidly changing world. With the international spotlight now placed on him, it’s also worth us, as leaders, examining how our own approaches might benefit from these lessons. While you may not want to rock bright red maple leaf socks like Trudeau, all four of these leadership lessons are applicable to every changemaker reading this. So get out there and lead, eh?


Photo Credit: Alex Guibord from Flickr.