Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on facing impostor syndrome and taking criticism (Transcript)

ReThinking with Adam Grant
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on facing impostor syndrome and taking criticism
June 11, 2024

[00:00:00] Justin Trudeau: 

Is there a time where I, I really step aside and give someone else a chance at it and, and say, “Okay, I've done enough. Let me go out undefeated?”

[00:00:12] Adam Grant: 

Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking my podcast on the science of what makes us tick with The TED Audio Collective. I'm an organizational psychologist and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

My guest today is Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada since 2015. About a month ago, I got an email outta the blue from his press secretary asking if I'd be interested in having the Prime Minister on my podcast. Naturally, I said, yes. It's not every day that a head of state invites himself onto your show.

I didn't wanna talk politics or even policy. I wanted to explore leadership and psychology, how he thinks about his job, how he handles criticism, and what motivates him. 

[00:00:59] Justin Trudeau: 

And the thing that has driven me every step of my life, because that's what my father and mother modeled for me, was being a success means having a positive impact on the world around you, whatever you do.

[00:01:12] Adam Grant: 

I drove up to Ottawa to do the interview in person. When I walked into the Prime Minister's office, the first thing I noticed was a Montreal Canadian’s jersey in front of the Canadian flag. A clear statement about the primacy of hockey. A few minutes later, Trudeau came in. His entry was decidedly understated.

No entourage, no pomp and circumstance. While he was getting mic'd, I didn't wanna waste his time, but I also didn't wanna waste any good material. So I went meta and asked him how many hours he thinks he wastes a year on small talk. He said it's not a waste. He'd prepped by listening to our ReThinking episode with Mae Martin on his run that morning, and it reminded him that small talk is his way of putting people at ease.

I'm, I'm actually curious about this idea of putting people at ease. How do you think about doing that when you show up? 

[00:02:01] Justin Trudeau: 

I don't, I don't think about it being able to just try and get through people's preconceived notions or expectations or nervousness to try and have a real conversation as quickly as possible is, uh, is just something that I guess I learned how to try to do throughout my life, talking about the weather, always sort of bored me, but actually having real conversations about things that matter was what I always wanted to do. 

Whenever I'd meet anyone and people would come at me with a certain amount of preconceptions, because my father was Prime Minister and there was, there's a, a, a, a known factor around me that getting them to a place where they could actually be comfortable in being themselves quickly became something that I wanted to see and and do in all my interactions. 

[00:02:52] Adam Grant: 

Mission accomplished. 

[00:02:54] Justin Trudeau: 

Oh, there you go. 

[00:02:54] Adam Grant: 

This is something of the family business. You got to see the Prime Minister job up close long before you took it.

What surprised you the most that you didn't expect? 

[00:03:04] Justin Trudeau: 

My first 13 years of life, growing up with my dad in this role was the International Summits, was the speeches, was the people coming up to him in restaurants for the rest of his life saying, thank you for doing this, thank for doing that, and it was always the big things.

The little things were the things I didn't see as a kid that really matter. When I first got elected, I wasn't leader. I wasn't even on the government side. I was just a simple back bench MP, discovering the ways in which being a community's representative, being their voice here in Ottawa, being in service of people, even if you're not in government, even if you're not in charge.

Actually makes a difference and discovering that made this job a lot more like what I knew professionally, which was being a teacher. It, it, it's those little moments, those engagements, explaining things, empowering people, that was key for me. 

[00:04:02] Adam Grant: 

So it almost sounds like there are aspects of the job that are better than you expected.

[00:04:06] Justin Trudeau: 

As a little kid, I wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut or a prime minister like my dad, but they were all unreal. And then I went through a long stretch of not wanting to go into politics because I knew how different I was from my father, and he was a very successful Prime Minister. And it wasn't until later that I realized there was a path through being a teacher around process, around people, around connection with people.

It was very different than my father's more intellectual approach to politics. 

[00:04:34] Adam Grant: 

How do you deal with the fact that no matter what you do at work, millions of people are gonna disapprove of your decisions and probably dislike you as a person? 

[00:04:43] Justin Trudeau: 

The line is if you, no matter what you're doing, you know 30% like you, 30% hate you, 40% are completely indifferent to the fact you even exist, right?

Like you don't get into this job because you want to be popular or you want to be liked, or if you do, you're in for a rude awakening because that's not what this job is all about. That's not what this life is all about. This is about service. This is about feeling you can actually make a difference that is meaningful in people's lives, in the direction of the country and how your country has an impact on the world.

The fact that there are people who approve what I'm doing, there are people who disapprove what I'm doing. Is all par for the course. And if nobody had any opinion on me, positive or negative, it would be that I wasn't doing anything consequential. So you do need to have a little bit of pushback if I'm raising taxes on the, the wealthiest as I am right now, if they weren't pushing back, I'd say, okay, maybe I'm, maybe I'm not doing it enough.

On a personal level, I was about seven years old the first time I remember some kid coming up to me in the schoolyard and saying, “My parents didn't vote for your dad, so I don't like you.” And I had to sort of adjust to the fact that that had nothing to do with me who I was. It was everything to do with external perceptions, everything to do with them, and I had to learn to put that aside.

But then a few years later, as I got a little more active and going with my dad to different places, I'd go to these rallies where everybody loved him and therefore everybody loved me. And I also had to learn to put that aside, that it was no realer, the people who loved me automatically than the people who disliked me automatically.

And getting a really strong sense of self and being able, when you get criticisms or congratulations. To reach below the emotions of that and say, “Okay, well what, what is the nugget of useful criticism that I can actually take constructively, even if it's not meant that way in the slightest? Did I really go a little too far here? Did I really not, uh, take into account the concerns of this community?” 

There certainly reasonable criticism out there, whether it's constructive or not. You can find that. And similarly, if people say, “Oh, you're awesome.” Well, okay, why exactly? Is it just how it makes you feel? So being able to sort of detach yourself from people's perceptions of you is really, really important in a job that requires a certain amount of popularity for people to vote for you, but you cannot allow that to drive you or even define you. 

[00:07:11] Adam Grant: 

What do you say to yourself when, when the criticism feels particularly painful? Is, is it just, well, that's my avatar they're reacting to, it's not me. 

[00:07:20] Justin Trudeau: 

More recently, uh, when I see people over the top in the, the kind of the, the hatred, polarization and toxicity that is just power for the course in so many democracies. 

Now my instant pivot is, okay, so what happened in their lives to lead them to that place? I try to go for a place of em, empathy of, well, what can I do even if they'll never give me credit for, to make sure that their life is less bad? And sometimes I can't imagine how to do it.

But other times, like I have to go to a place of reminding myself and it's not hard 'cause it's, it's in me. I'm the Prime Minister of 40 million Canadians, not just the, the, the millions who voted for me. I'm, I'm for everyone. And therefore, no matter how much they dislike me, I still have to try and think about, you know, what I can do to make sure that them or their kids or their community is doing better.

And that exercise sort of detaches a little bit from what their actual opinion is of me. It gets harder when it goes to my family or some of my team members where I'm not as able to detach it, because that's coming after my, people come after me. All your, like, I put my name on a sign. I'm standing here for election I'm doing it. 

I'm, I'm welcoming it. But for others it makes it harder. 

[00:08:41] Adam Grant: 

I'm curious about the, just the confidence it takes to want to do this job in the first place. It used to seem to me to be something that required an unusual level of ambition. Maybe even arrogance or narcissism, some would say. 

[00:08:53] Justin Trudeau: 


[00:08:54] Adam Grant: 

And then over time I've started to see you just have to think that you could do this job better than the other viable candidates. You don't have to think that you're capable of doing a perfect job running one of the most powerful countries on earth. How do you think about that tightrope? 

[00:09:09] Justin Trudeau: 

I guess it's not something I think about too much now 'cause I spent so much time thinking about it over the years.

I only saw myself getting into politics. Yeah, when I was younger I thought, “Okay, maybe I do politics one day, but it'd be much later once I've gotten out from under the weight of my last name and historical expectations, I've proven myself in business or written a few books or started a school or done things that are like really meaningful, and then I can go in on, on my first name.”

In my thirties, I was very much a youth activist. I was doing environmental stuff. I was a teacher through my twenties, and I learned from working with young people who had no connection to my father that I had things worth saying. And as I sort of got pulled in a little bit indirectly into partisan politics, I I realized, “Oh, I'm actually good at the things my dad wasn't great at.” Which is the campaigning, the handshaking, everything. I learned that it was very much my maternal grandfather's side who was a Jimmy Sinclair, was a great retail politician. He loved it. As I discovered that I was good at pulling people together and mobilizing them and organizing and inspiring and, and building a great team.

I got more and more into politics and every step of the way I was somewhat hesitant to take the next step. My father's party, the liberal party, reached a total Nader, like we were down to 35 seats in the 300 plus seat house. We were on our way to oblivion when I came in as leader, and it was an opportunity to rebuild from scratch.

But then as I looked around at who else could be leader, I realized, “Oh wait, nobody gets how hard the work is gonna be or the work that needs to be done, and I can sort of see that clearly. So I'm sort of gonna be the one who does it because it's gonna take an incredible amount of work that I think I can do better than others.”

And turns out I was pretty good at it in terms of rebuilding the party. 

[00:11:08] Adam Grant: 

You mentioned feeling hesitant to take a leadership role. Some of our PhD students at Wharton have shown that a feeling of reluctance, of saying, “I'm not sure if I want this.” Um, actually it can lead to more effective behavior when you're at the helm because you don't think you know all the answers.

Uh, you don't think you have to make every decision yourself, and it may actually lead you to empower other people more to learn from other people around you. 

[00:11:32] Justin Trudeau: 

Absolutely. If I was gonna be any good in this job, I had to bring around the most brilliant, successful, smartest, most driven people I possibly could to build a team.

And I, I sort of understand that. I come to it with an ability to bring people together and mobilize them and, and create a, a, a big vision. Leadership for me was never about being the one at the top of the pyramid barking out orders. A good leader is someone who's figuring out how every member of the team can be at peak performance in the most important moments. And that's that idea of lifting up everyone around you is the way I sort of fell into this leadership role. 

[00:12:15] Adam Grant: 

One of the risks of surrounding yourself with people you think are smarter than you is that sometimes you feel like an imposter and you wonder, do I really belong here?

Has that affected you over the last eight years at all? 

[00:12:26] Justin Trudeau: 

I, I was very aware of the imposter syndrome all my life. Uh, uh, as a teacher, I kept waiting for someone to knock on the door and say, “Okay, you know, this was a terrible mistake. We're we're pulling you.” Or anytime I was up giving a speech on environmental responsibility, I was expecting someone, you know, “You never actually finished your graduate studies in environmental geography. What are you doing?” 

I was very aware that. The first day I walked onto Parliament Hill as an elected MP after what was a very tough election for a party, but it was was good for me. In 2008, I, I searched for that imposter syndrome. I said, “Okay, here it's gonna come.” And it wasn't there. And for the first time in my life, I think it was because I worked so hard on the ground for the two years to sort of overcome people's name, recognition, expectations of me, like all my opponents then. 

And pretty much since have said, “Oh, it's just an accident of history that he's in the role he is. He's expecting everyone to vote for him because of his last name and you know, that'll catch up with him sooner or later, or he won't get elected the first time.”

And I worked the ground, I went door to door right across the district. I, I, I, you know, got to know all the different community organizations and I earned their support in that election and people actually came out, put a little X beside my name and said, “No, we definitely want you to go.” I'm like, “Okay. People actually chose me through a process of saying.” “We're trusting you to be our voice in Ottawa, and we're making that choice deliberately.” 

And I'd also run in a very authentic way about who I was and, and what I was. And I felt that people knew what they were getting when they voted for me in my district.

So I didn't feel that imposter syndrome, and, and, and I haven't since. I keep saying, look, I will continue to serve. I'll continue to do the best I can and try to do it in as authentic way, a way as possible, uh, way that is true to me with, you know, all the, all the strengths and, and flaws that I have as any, any individual does.

[00:14:17] Adam Grant: 

Well, what you're describing tracks with the, the evidence on imposter thoughts, which, “Oh, I'm, I'm, it's encouraging, right?” You would, you would otherwise have to change the way that you think. But, um, some of the. 

[00:14:26] Justin Trudeau: 

Because that's what psychologists do so well, constantly people change the way they think. 

[00:14:30] Adam Grant: 

We, we do that for a living and it always works.

[00:14:31] Justin Trudeau: 

It so successful. Exactly, exactly. 

[00:14:33] Adam Grant: 

Thank you for, uh, for respecting my profession every bit as much as I admire yours Prime Minister. But I think that in all seriousness, one of the surprising benefits of, of those imposter thoughts is they create a gap between what you think other people expect of you and what you feel capable of.

And that leaves you motivated to close the gap, which you did. Do you ever worry that not feeling like an imposter makes you complacent? 

[00:14:56] Justin Trudeau: 

No, there's no, no ability be to be complacent in this job, not when you're still charged up about it. The, the challenge is, particularly in this time that continue to get thrown at us, all the range of crises that are hitting right now all around the world, but are democracies, but also, uh, our countries combined with all the steady, progressive work that we need to do of, you know, lifting kids outta poverty and helping with $10 a day childcare and, you know, delivering the fight against climate change and creating good jobs through a greener economy. 

And, you know, working with reconciling, with Indigenous People, there are like so many big things we have to keep doing while there's war in Ukraine, conflict in the Middle East.

You know, climate change, hitting the world, uh, backsliding of democracies, foreign interference, rise of autocracies. There's all this going on. There's no complacency in this job. Not when you actually care about it, not when you're focused on what gets you into it, which is the desire to leave things better, uh, every day than they were the day before.

[00:16:01] Adam Grant: 

You're describing some of the many things that make this one of the hardest jobs on Earth, and it's unbelievable to me that it comes with so little training, but here you are doing this job every day. How do you deal with the, the ongoing thoughts about, do I want to keep doing this? I know you, you've gone on record saying you think about quitting approximately every day.

[00:16:20] Justin Trudeau: 

I think that's part of a process where if you are gonna be honest about doing a job like this that has the responsibilities and the impact that it has, you have to check, maybe not every day, but you have to check that you're up for it. That you're all in every given day because people out there that 40 million people that I am directly responsible for serving deserve a leader that is focused on them with everything they have every single day.

And that sort of check on, you know, “Am I able to do that? Am I motivating my team to do that? Am I driving that forward? Am I fully all in?” Even though I've been in it for a few years, even though it's harder now than it was before, even though my opponent's getting traction for all the wrong reasons, all those different things, if they're enough to make you say no, maybe then you shouldn't be doing it.

And I learned this being a teacher where I would work hard all day, come home, absolutely exhausted, but so excited about what the next day was gonna bring. When you find a job that charges you up like that where you are deeply excited about doing it, no matter how hard it gets and aware of the awesome responsibility and impact that you get to have, then it's sort of intellectually honest to check in with yourself regularly.

[00:17:49] Adam Grant: 

How often do you actually think about quitting? 

[00:17:52] Justin Trudeau: 

These days? Not at all. Um, there was a moment last year as I was facing some difficult moments in my marriage where I really wondered, “Okay, is there a path?” And I just realized that that's, that's not me. There is so much to do still, and the stakes are higher in some ways for our democracies than ever before. 

The need to try and hold things together in a rational discourse around doing things that are meaningful and are going to nudge the arc of the moral universe forward matters so much that I couldn't be the person I am, the fighter I am, and say, “Yeah, no, this particular fight I'm, I'm walking away from.”

I can't do that yet. 

[00:18:43] Adam Grant: 

You look like you're having fun in your job more often than I would expect given all the stressors of the work. 

[00:18:48] Justin Trudeau: 


[00:18:49] Adam Grant: 

But I don't want leaders to have too much fun. And I think, uh, I think about some, some evidence that guilt prone leaders are actually more effective because they're more likely to think about mistakes they made and try to right wrongs as opposed to just sleeping well every night.

Talk to me about what guilt feels like in this role, because I don't like being responsible for four people, let alone 40 million. 

[00:19:14] Justin Trudeau: 

Anytime you see me having fun, I am, uh, connecting with people. I'm doing things that, where people are having genuine interactions, and that's real. Uh, the work I do here at this desk, the, the debates in chamber, the, the things like that, that can be a bit of a grind.

I mean, that's sort of the solitary work or the the teamwork we have around the cabinet table, you know, figuring things out, wrestling with big decisions and stuff, that's not always fun. You've always gotta think about the opportunity costs, what the consequences are. Just being aware of, of the weight of these decisions is fine, but also not putting on yourself a level of expectations to be perfect all the time. 

I mean, so many politicians spend all their time saying, “Oh, I can't make any mistakes.” And the one thing that I tend to fall back on is I think Canadians have a pretty good sense of where my values are, what I'm trying to fight for. I'm trying to, you know, build a more inclusive, positive society in which everyone has a fair chance, like I am gotta, I'm sure, you know, do some suboptimal things in this policy or that. 

But when a crisis hits, when a challenge hits i'll, as we all do, revert to our core values and our core instincts, I think that's important. In regards to sleep, that's one of my rules. I sleep about eight or nine hours every night.

I exercise as much as I can. I eat well, I play well with my kids with with friends, you know, getting that balance of being a real person and not saying, “Okay, for these, you know, years that I am Prime Minister, I have to be only Prime Minister and focus only on that.” I mean, that's a route to madness. I can still be me that finds joy even after difficult moments and, and getting that balance of allowing myself to be a real whole person with good days and bad days, and successes and and challenges, I think grounds and uplifts you at the same time. 

[00:21:13] Adam Grant: 

Imagine one aspect of your job that's harder now than it used to be is getting people to speak truth to power. You come into office, you were a peer with a lot of the people that you've brought in, and now anybody you hire has to look at the Prime Minister.

How do you make it safe for people to speak up? 

[00:21:28] Justin Trudeau: 

I wanted to focus on making sure people were their community's voice in Ottawa. In Parliament, instead of being Parliament's voice in their communities, we sit in 338 seats in the in the House of Commons, where each of us, including me, represents a very specific district.

And our responsibility is to, to vote and speak for the people, our peers, who elected us to come and sit in this house and anchoring. My team, all the MPs, their responsibility to speak for their community, even if that's concerns with something I'm doing. Is really, really important. That actually leads, not to negative consequences for them, but to me saying, “Okay, because I heard you on this one. As we move forward on this policy that I know isn't gonna be really popular in some parts of your community, I'm gonna say that I know it's not gonna be part popular, or we're gonna bring in this mitigation, or we're gonna try and to justice and creating a space where people can share with me their concerns in a way that I'm not gonna fly off the handle at them or belittle them.” 

Just basic interpersonal ability to take, uh, criticism and put people at ease when they're telling you something they think you don't want to hear, which maybe you don't, is part of being a leader that actually pulls together diversity, and you cannot, you cannot run or serve a country like Canada, unless you're ready to fully embrace diversity.

If you can't model that amongst your team, then how are you gonna do right by a country that is as very gated as we are? 

[00:23:10] Adam Grant: 

Yeah. Well, I'd love to know what your team is pushing you to improve that. Uh, how are you trying to grow as a leader? What feedback or notes have you gotten lately? 

[00:23:19] Justin Trudeau: 

I've been on a kick lately of just saying, “Look if we could just explain what this policy actually is. If we could show the charts and the graphs, and if I could just sit down and talk through why this is the right policy and how it's actually gonna help, then everyone will get it and they'll agree and then we can move on. And there won't be this debate over whether putting a price on pollution that puts more money back in people's pockets is a good idea or not. If I could just explain it enough and, and use the right charts.” 

Like, “Huh boss, you're not a teacher anymore.” Right? And my MPs will come to me and say, “No, no. We just need you to get out there and talk about the world we're building and and reassure people that you've got the plan and you're confident in it and you're projecting it, and we're gonna get to that better place. And you're gonna reassure them and you're gonna connect with them and stop it with the explaining.” And that's one that I've had a lot of trouble with and I think my team finally said, “Okay, fine. We'll make you do lots of podcasts instead.” Uh, where I do get to do, as one of our mayors, once famously put, “Politics in full sentences.”

[00:24:28] Adam Grant: 

I have a clear vision of what the meeting looked like after you left the room.

It's like, “PM is trying to show PowerPoint again. How do we get around this? Podcast.” 

[00:24:36] Justin Trudeau: 

Exactly, exactly. That was pretty much. And I said, “Well, no. I even wrote a script for an explainer video where I can do this. And I was like, just like God, okay, we'll try.” And we, they've done little bits of it and some of them work a bit, but it's still not, it's, it's, it's still me trying to be a teacher as opposed to me being the leader that is telling the story of where Canada goes.

[00:25:03] Adam Grant: 

Well, that I think is a good segway to the lightning round. Are you ready for this? Okay. Okay. So I have a bunch of rapid fire questions. Uh, first one is, who's a leader you admire who's no longer alive? 

[00:25:13] Justin Trudeau: 

My dad. 

[00:25:14] Adam Grant: 

That's an easy one. 

[00:25:15] Justin Trudeau: 


[00:25:15] Adam Grant: 

Anyone you're not related to that you would add?  

[00:25:19] Justin Trudeau: 

Lincoln's appeal to better angels of our natures is, is one that I always go back to as he handled a divided country in the most challenging ways.

I think to him, every now and then.

[00:25:31] Adam Grant: 

I feel a little bad that you chose an American leader. 

[00:25:33] Justin Trudeau: 

No, you shouldn't. Yeah. America has provided some of the best leaders the world has ever seen. 

[00:25:39] Adam Grant: 

Okay, so one of my all time favorite Canadian contests was to come up with an equivalent of as American as apple pie for Canada.

[00:25:47] Justin Trudeau: 

And the answer in Canada was as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.

[00:25:52] Adam Grant: 

You have done your homework. 

[00:25:53] Justin Trudeau: 

I know it's a, it's a classic Zowsky piece. 

[00:25:56] Adam Grant: 

What, what does that mean to you?

[00:26:02] Justin Trudeau: 

Oh God, that's a good question. I think it means that we're people who understand compromise and reality like that, that things don't always go towards our i ideal. There's no manifest destiny like there is in the United States. It's a sense of, you know, we're gonna figure this out. We're gonna roll up our sleeves, we're gonna figure out how to get along and we're gonna solve the problems, you know, given the tools we have.

[00:26:25] Adam Grant: 

Basically it's a, it's a slogan for Canadian agreeableness and adaptability. 

[00:26:28] Justin Trudeau: 

Yeah. You know, saying sorry, after someone bumps into you is a way of, you know, easing that, uh, that dynamic as well. 

[00:26:35] Adam Grant: 

Touché. What's the worst piece of leadership advice you've been given? 

[00:26:40] Justin Trudeau: 

Try to be more like your dad. 

[00:26:42] Adam Grant: 

Why was that bad advice?

[00:26:44] Justin Trudeau: 

Because I'm not him and, and people say, oh, “I like the way you did that. It was just like your dad.” I'm like, “Ooh, okay. I have to be careful of tha. Growing up with parents who are very successful or take up a lot of space forces you to be very deliberate about what you're choosing to take from them, what you're choosing not to, and then you have to deal with all the expectations.”

All my life people have said, “Oh, your dad was former minister. Do you wanna be Prime Minister too?” And my kids are going through it now too, where, “Oh yeah, again, two generations. You're gonna be the third generation.” And it's like, “I'm a teenager. What the hell do I know?” Right. And being grounded in, in who and what you are and unapologetic about it and not trying to be something you're not ever is hugely important.

[00:27:24] Adam Grant: 

What's something you've rethought lately? 

[00:27:27] Justin Trudeau: 

Rethinking all the forces that ended up leaving Canadians divided post pandemic, and the pandemic we scrambled to try and do. Everything we could, we, we delivered a $500 a week, uh, income replacement for, for low income people. We brought in a 75% wage subsidy that kept people on the payrolls.

We encouraged and created conditions in which everyone was encouraged to get, uh, vaccination. We had a higher double vaccination rate than just about any of our, our peer countries. We had a less bad pandemic than just about any of our peer countries, and yet some of the lingering impacts of those policies continue to divide Canadians and I'm, I'm still trying to figure out how to bring Canadians back together.

[00:28:16] Adam Grant: 

What's a book you read recently that you loved? 

[00:28:19] Justin Trudeau: 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, uh, which is a lovely story of a, a young woman who was born in, in like 17th century France, who made a Faustian bargain and lived forever, but anyone she met would instantly forget her the second she walked past. And what kind of a life is that when you actually can't have a lasting impact on anyone around you?

I read almost only fiction on my downtime because I read so much nonfiction for work. 

[00:28:50] Adam Grant: 

What's the question you have for me?

[00:28:55] Justin Trudeau: 

Well. You give, uh, advice to leaders of all different types on how to adjust and how to lead today given social media, given post-pandemic world, all that. Would you give the same advice or different advice to political leaders as you would to other types of leaders? And what would be your best advice on how to, how to create cohesive communities, uh, in this time of division?

[00:29:25] Adam Grant: 

I, I think I'd say both. I give some of the same advice 'cause I think there are aspects of leadership that generalize regardless of what environment you're in, at the end of the day, you have to make good decisions. You have to get people to respect your integrity and your competence and your care, and wanna follow you.

I guess my most basic message to leaders in any, any environment would be put your mission above your ego. That's an easy one. Things I would say differently to political leaders, although I actually think that the business world has become more like this in recent years. Our political leaders have to care a lot more about constituents and their opinions and their approval ratings.

And I think that now we're actually seeing that the leaders are facing that kind of pressure and in other environments as well. Um, in terms of your question about how to bring people together and create community. I don't think anybody has easy answers. And as a social scientist, I've been racking my brain on it for, for the last few years and reading everything I could find.

And I think the, probably the most useful thing that, that I've come across is a lot of people are very quick to slip into binary bias, good versus bad, us versus them. Uh, pick your least favorite version of it. The way that we normally try to fight that is we try to build up, we're good, they're bad. And I think a better solution is to say we actually need a door number three.

We need to ask, okay, if these two views are dividing people, what's the third point of view that actually the silent majority might hold? And that seems to me at least to be a good starting point for thinking through this. 

[00:30:47] Justin Trudeau: 

Yeah, no, listen, I, I, I love that. And I've been reading on a, a phenomenon that says the majority actually starts to think it's in the minority now.

'Cause those minorities are so loud, you know, there's so much noise out. There that people start questioning that, that goodness and thoughtfulness of the silent majority. I'm someone who has, who got into politics to try and pull people together, and it is so easy to fall into sort of divisive rhetoric or or even position, then you have to be careful with this too. 

I mean, like I made the decision early on in my leadership that I was only gonna have pro-choice MPs that members of Parliament needed to be willing to stand up for a woman's right to choose. And a lot of people accused me of being divisive on that because I was excluding, you know parts of the population from being able to run for, for our party. 

And traditionally our party had had both sides, uh, of that debate, both pro-choice and anti-choice. And that is a position that, on the one hand is somewhat divisive, right? Because I am saying, “No, you, you don't get to take away a woman's right to choose.”

But at the same time, it's one that I believe is the right position in absolute terms. It's empowering an individual woman to make whatever choice she wants. If she wants to be anti-abortion, she could do that if she wants to start a family, family if like she gets that choice. But it's it's portrayed as a binary situation that has caused me to really think about the nature of taking a clear position on a thorny issue versus trying to accommodate as many different viewpoints.

And obviously in many situations you wanna bring people together on protecting the environment is good. And you know, growing the society for everyone is good, but sometimes there are sharp lines to be drawn and and navigating the difference in those moments is something that is fraught with extra peril in a time of polarization and such amplification of, of divisions online.

[00:32:58] Adam Grant: 

When you navigate these kinds of decisions now with your team, how do you actually go about thinking through the different options? What does your decision process actually look like? 

[00:33:06] Justin Trudeau: 

Well, I try to anchor myself in trying to find out what the actual right decision is first and foremost. What is the best science or the most up-to-date science on it?

What is the consensus? Who, what are the experts saying? Can we find experts to disagree with each other and try and pull from them their points of disagreement to find if there is. A position that you can build some sort of consensus around, and then you look at, okay, now that we know what the optimal answer is.

Does this fit in with both where people are and where people are willing to go, and does it fit into the rest of what we're doing? Because you could have the absolute right answer for something that is yes, the absolute, intellectually, academically best solution for a given problem. But if you look at it and say, “But Canadians won't be able to support it. It's too much of a step. It's too much of a leap.” 

Then can you figure out a half measure that, you know, nudges us in the right direction. So next year or next mandate or next leader or next Prime Minister can complete that work. And and that's the art of the possible one of one of my.

Favorite Prime Ministers other than my dad was, was Wilfrid Laurier, and he was turn of the century. He was a French Canadian, our first French Canadian Prime Minister ruling over a majority English Canada. And he understood the need not to just anchor in your own identity and be unflinching on it, but that political courage actually sometimes involves and usually involves compromise and putting water in your wine and finding common ground and bringing together a cohesive vision that we can all get behind, even if it's not optimal for either side. 

And that idea of trying to find the best way to come together in our differences to agree on a path forward continues to be the the elusive goal of Canadian politics.

[00:34:58] Adam Grant: 

That's a nice challenge actually, to rethink compromise. I've long been allergic to it because it seems like both people are leaving unhappy. But I think what you're saying is that you actually care about the other person's happiness too. 

[00:35:09] Justin Trudeau: 

Well, I, it, it, you know, politics shouldn't be win-lose, right?

Because fundamentally, we all sort of agree on the same things. People should have good jobs and give meaning to their lives. Uh, they should have opportunities to advance. They should have a clean environment. You know, everyone should have a chance to succeed. We should be, you know, not at war with neighbors or people on the other side of the world.

Like everyone sort of knows what the ideals are. Lots of disagreements about how to best organize ourselves to get there, but the more you can get down to those basic principles of let's try and figure this out together, and can we find a way that nudges us forward in a, in a meaningful way? Well, that does require finding that, that, that, that middle ground, that common ground.

[00:35:54] Adam Grant: 

I feel like most of the time we get asked, what's the advice you would give to your younger self? But I wanna flip the question and say, if you can give advice to Prime Minister Trudeau a year or a decade down the road, what guidance would you give to the wiser, older version of you? 

[00:36:10] Justin Trudeau: 

Be patient with yourself.

Allow that. Sometimes it takes time to get to the right answer, and the perfect is the enemy of the good matters. As a, as a principle, taking meaningful steps forward are sometimes more transformative and lasting than trying to change everything all at once. 

[00:36:37] Adam Grant: 

Thank you. 

[00:36:37] Justin Trudeau: 

No, what a great conversation. Thank you, Adam.

[00:36:39] Adam Grant: 

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

My favorite point from the Prime Minister was about getting people to speak truth to power. I think it's very effective to encourage people to represent their community to a leader instead of just representing the leader to their community. It tracks with research I've published on Pro-Social Motives for Voice, showing that people are more likely to be candid with their concerns and ideas when they're advocating for others.

It also aligns with something Amy Edmondson stressed to me recently. “Leaders don't just need to make it clear that it's safe to speak up. They also need to highlight why it's worthwhile.” I was also struck by the way the Prime Minister detaches himself from people's opinions of him. I think it's smart to focus on impact more than approval.

It speaks to something different. I would tell leaders in politics beware of achievement motivation. Although it's established as a key driver of success and innovation in the corporate world, David Winter has found that achievement motivation often frustrates politicians because they have so little control.

I also thought there was an interesting paradox here about impostor syndrome. The very thing that made Prime Minister Trudeau feel like an imposter initially. His family name and the associated questions about nepotism was also something of a source of confidence that he could do the job. That having seen someone do it up close, he no longer saw it as impossible.

It reminds me of Laura Liswood's Uncle Fred Theory of Politics where. If you have an Uncle Fred who's a politician, you look at that and say, “Well, if Uncle Fred could do it, I could do it too.” Finally, I noticed a pattern around contrast effects. Prime Minister Trudeau is highly motivated to differentiate his leadership from his fathers.

Also, the book he loved was the exact opposite of his life. It's telling that someone so visible was drawn to a novel about someone who becomes invisible. On that note, I think we need more leaders who read fiction or who read period. Leaders who don't have time to read are leaders who don't make time to learn.

ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant. This show is part of The TED Audio Collective, and this episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard. Our producers are Hannah Kingsley-Ma and Aja Simpson. Our editor is Alejandra Salazar. Our fact checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.

Our team includes Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers.

[00:39:18] Justin Trudeau: 

Mark it. There's a solemnity that kicks in. As soon as that happens, now it's real. Now it's real. Yeah.