Every experience you have in life chips a little more detail into the person you are becoming and today’s world leaders are no different.
Sometimes the biggest developments come about from a single word of advice offered by a mentor, friend, or even a stranger in a bar. More frequently, you’ll be shaped by the broader professional experiences you have. The big mistakes you make. The chance solutions you cook up. The grind of day-to-day interactions with colleagues and clients.
For example, as everyone who has worked in customer service knows: everyone should have to work in customer service! A customer-facing job is a school of hard-knocks for tact, people skills, and empathy; for developing a thick skin and solving problems under pressure and scrutiny. Or to put it more succinctly: how to get on with people that see things at a 180-degree angle from how you see them.
The folks at CashNetUSA realized there’s a lot to learn from the biggest leadership stories – the formative jobs of today’s world leaders. They researched articles, interviews, and biographies of 197 of today’s world leaders to reveal the first real jobs of our presidents and prime ministers before they got into politics.
The researchers created this excellent new set of data visualizations to show just how every leader got started. Hover over the interactive maps to see the name of each country’s leader and what they did in their first full-time position.
- North America
Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada, started out with a variety of odd-jobs: nightclub bouncer, snowboard instructor, and even radio host. But his first full-time employment was as a math teacher at West Point Grey Academy.
Donald Trump was born into a fortune established on his grandfather’s “Canadian Gold-Rush Brothel,” but before joining the family business he made his pocket money collecting discarded bottles from his father’s building sites. He later started work with the Trump family property empire, but never lost his skill for exploiting society’s detritus for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful.
- South America
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro was a bus-driver and union representative in Caracas before he moved into party politics. These jobs undoubtedly gave him rare insight into the daily lives of ordinary people and the manner in which big business tends to exploit its front-line workers.
Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay got to know people from the inside out as an oncologist. Many politicians evoke the metaphor of ‘cancers’ of society that need to be cured with government policy, but Vázquez dealt with the real thing: the prevention, analysis, and treatment of human cancer.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine had a hard act to follow: the previous leader, Petro Poroshenko was a candy manufacturer known as the “Chocolate King.” But like Poroshenko and Trump, Zelensky used the power of showbiz to reach out to the people, starring as a fictitious president in a popular TV comedy before he was voted president for real. Zelensky’s first job was as a comedy writer-performer, so you can’t help but wonder if we’re all living in one of his scripts.
The president of Lithuania is Dalia Grybauskaitė. Her first job was as a factory worker, although it was just a way to get by while she studied political economy. Today she is known as the Iron Lady, not because of her industrial past, but because she is a black belt in karate who idolizes Margaret Thatcher!
Sadly, much of Africa is led by former military people due in part to the turbulent recent history of many of the continent’s states. But perhaps the most famous African leader at the moment is best known for his previous career as one of the greatest soccer players in the world.
Liberia’s George Weah travelled the world, saw the power of co-operation, and transcended class boundaries as a player for A.C. Milan, Paris St Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City, and the Liberian national team. “I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other,” he said as he was sworn in as one of today’s world leaders as president of Liberia.
The president of Mongolia is a former Sambo wrestling champion and current Judo master. President Battulga Khaltmaa was also Chairman of the Mongolian Judo Federation, leading the Mongolian judo team became Olympic Champions.
Nobody knows exactly what North Korea’s ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-Un did before he became head of the government and military. Commentators reckon that he worked in surveillance, either for the army’s General Political Bureau or the Korean Workers’ Party. At one point he held the title “Brilliant Comrade,” which would look good on anybody’s resume.
Jacinda Ardern, the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, started work as a researcher for the Labour Party as soon as she finished college. Having grown up in an impoverished neighborhood that seemed to have been forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, she was inspired to make changes and improve conditions in her community.
The island country of Nauru, is presided over by Baron Waqa. He started out as a music composer, and today his son is a musician, too. It is said that learning music from a young age promotes emotional intelligence and empathy – what greater skills could any political or business leader require?
The first jobs of today’s world leaders speak volumes about the choices they make now. How do you think your national leader’s first job shaped them?