Three Lessons in Leadership from Donald Trump
Donald Trump is considered one of the most powerful men in the world and despite being a controversial figure, there are three things that emerging and established leaders can learn from him: fearless leadership; uniting people; and reflection.
In the crucible of trial and tribulation, a leader, be it in business, politics, home, or elsewhere, must stay calm, cool, and collected in order to keep the troops on course, and prevent chaos and panic.In essence, a poker face needs to be worn with conviction since showing face is the equivalent of voicing the most guarded information to the other side.
By seeking to ban Muslims and build walls, Trump is not only exposing his fears, but drawing-in others to be influenced by the same fear, creating divisions of “us” versus “them”. Succumbing to fear, paranoia, or prejudice is not a trait of a leader.
Remember the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz? He is depicted as being in need of a brain because he is senselessly scared all the time. Considering our real life example, casting stones is not a sign of bravery, but senseless cowardice.
Fearless leadership means innovative thinking and uniting people and resources to address a very specific problem.
Mr. Trump is now responsible for some 300 million Americans. He claims to be a politician for the people and have their best interest at heart – but does he?
Mr. Trump’s attack on the media is not beneficial to the population as a whole; instead, it creates confusion and breeds mistrust. What’s more, he is drawing the American people into his own personal beef with the media, causing them to question the validity of the integrity and competency of U.S. journalists – not for the intent or purpose of critically examining the role of media – but purely for self-serving reasons.
Great leaders should not rally their supporters to serve their own personal means. Instead, they should garner support and influence others for a cause or reason that is bigger and broader than the leader’s ego.
Cohesion is key as a leader. Recognize differences on your team and determine ways on how to include and incorporate those differences to benefit the group. In a statement posted by Mark Zuckerberg on his Facebook page he shared that
“A few years ago, I taught a class at a local middle school where some of my best students were undocumented. They are our future too. We are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here” (2017).
From another prominent business leader, in a statement to his employees (taken from the website recode): “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do” (Tim Cook 2017).
Compare these attitudes to Trump. Cook and Zuckerberg are inclusive, embrace diversity, and see the value and merit of all their employees.
What Trump seems to fail to realize is that people who are in the U.S. illegally are also part of the American fabric. By removing them, or banning others from entering the country, he is disrupting family units and impacting communities – communities that he says he represents. By using rhetoric that implies that immigrants or refugees are not desirable, he is undermining the possibilities and potential they add to society and hindering integration and societal cohesion.
In order to be a champion for those under you, it involves uniting the masses, and having the whole work together to achieve a common goal. If a leader creates fractions or divisions, it is counterproductive to the effectiveness of a team, and creates hostilities and tensions – signs of a dysfunctional organisation or nation.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner strongly advocate for the necessity to engage in reflection in order to become an effective leader. Taken from their book Learning Leadership, the authors advise “when people reflect on their experiences, it becomes clear that the way leaders behave has an impact on both themselves and others around them” (2016).
Trump’s ability to critically reflect on his own performance, actions, and statements is lacking at best, non-existent at worst. And if he does reflect on his actions, it appears that he never finds fault or error in his ways.
For example, exhibit A: “grab them by the p***y” comment. In this video posted on CNN, in response to the released footage, it comes across as more of a nuisance than a sincere and genuine reflection on his lewd behaviour. He quickly down plays the seriousness and ultimately shirks responsibility for his behaviour by using statements such as: “more than a decade old video” and “anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am” and (my personal fave) “I apologize”. Saying “I apologize” is vastly different from a sincere “I’m sorry”.
Not recognizing your shortcomings does not make a leader infallible, it makes leaders dangerously unaware of their own leadership style, the impact they have on other’s lives, and oblivious on how to improve.
Ultimately, it’s best to follow examples of excellence. However, when that isn’t available, sometimes we can learn just as much from poor representatives knowing that the characteristics of some bosses, faith leaders, or politicians are traits that we want to avoid because it is not what or who we want to reflect.
Thank the uninspiring leaders you have or have had, because they are teaching us how not to be. So, Mr. Trump, I am ever grateful for the case study in leadership you have given us.