Is Donald proving us wrong?
After seeing President Trump in action, should we rewrite the leadership books?
A business exec posed an fascinating question during a coffee break: “Trump has now been the US President for nearly six months,” he said. “When do you guys stop using him as a cautionary tale about the ‘wrong sort of leader’, and start changing your views on what good leadership looks like?”
In my leadership development programmes I often use an a picture of Trump to provoke discussion about what works in business, and what doesn’t. Even allowing for the imperfect read-across from politics to business, it works. Donald’s angry face makes people smile – or groan – with recognition.
Like him, or loathe him – he’s a great way to get a conversation going.
I’m work with organisations trying to be innovative. In this context, my research is clear. Donald’s style is counterproductive when leading for new ideas and creativity. Here’s a few of the reasons why..
Donald likes to portray himself as the smartest man in the room. But, in an increasingly complex, fast-moving world, its far more effective to leverage collective intelligence. My advice is to business people is counter intuitive: just admit you don’t have all the answers. Instead, empower people with engaging ‘what-if?’ and ‘why-not?’ questions.
Donald often draws attention to his own gifts. Last week, hilariously, he even claimed to have dreamed up the notion of cladding his Mexican border wall in solar panels. “Pretty good imagination, right? It’s my idea”, he crowed. In fact, the idea came from the architectural submissions to the Department of Homeland Security. I advise leaders to be the cheerleader-in-chief for those around you. And, of course, never, ever, take credit for other people’s ideas!
Donald loves to remind people he’s the most powerful man in the room. In his first cabinet meeting members of his administration were encouraged to lavish praise on him for 11 cringe-worthy minutes. I work with leaders on how to flatten, not exaggerate, hierarchy. To become a “context-creator” who sees the job as facilitating an environment in which other people excel.
So, my reply to the executive’s excellent question was : I’m not changing my views just yet. President Trump is an anomaly who’s risen on a tide of global populism fueled by a historically-febrile US political environment. For me, he’s still a ‘how-NOT-to’ case study for business leaders to learn from.
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