by Steve Adubato, PhD
In writing my book, Lessons in Leadership, I spent several years researching what it takes to be a truly great leader. I interviewed leaders of every stripe about their greatest leadership lessons and challenges. So as I look at President-Elect Trump and his leadership style, I do it with a backdrop of acknowledging he is about to take on the most challenging leadership job in the world.
I have come to believe that great leaders are disciplined in the way they communicate, only speaking publicly when they have thought through exactly what they want to say and why they want to say it. Great leaders are thick-skinned and don’t react and attack every time they are criticized. These leaders are what I call in my book “other-centric” as opposed to “me-centric.” What I simply mean is that these leaders are less driven by ego and what’s good for them, as opposed to what’s best for those around them and the people they serve.
Great leaders surround themselves with strong team members who are not afraid to challenge them and tell them they’re wrong. They take this advice because they’re confident enough to know they’ve picked the best people, and they, themselves, don’t have all the answers. The great leaders I profile in my book, Lessons in Leadership, take responsibility when things go wrong. They rarely, if ever, blame others--understanding that anything that happens on their watch, they must own.
Now, let’s turn to President-Elect Trump’s leadership style. I’ve hoped that his style would evolve. That he would become more measured, more disciplined and less reactive. Less quick-triggered when tweeting whatever comes to mind in a particular moment, without thinking through the ramifications of those 140 characters. But that hasn’t happened. Our President-to-be says what he wants, when he wants to say it, because he feels it in that moment, which was once again demonstrated in his first press conference in a long time, where his leadership style was on full display. Unedited. Unfiltered. Off the cuff. Unplugged.
Further, Trump has what I call a “me-centric” leadership approach. The President-Elect won’t criticize Vladimir Putin, because he has said nice things about Trump. That’s what I call “me-centric.” That’s leading with your ego. That’s not strategic. That’s how leaders get played. And, what is the President-Elect doing tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on The Celebrity Apprentice? For the record, I agree. Trump was better at this than Arnold. But why does Trump even care about that? Isn’t his presidential agenda way more important than the ratings for a cheesy reality show he used to host? Again, that’s ego.
Additionally, Trump’s name calling is out of control. Those who disagreed with him about Russia, he simply called “stupid.” Of course anyone can understand Trump being angry and frustrated by the recent unsubstantiated reports about Russian intelligence having compromising information about his personal and financial life. Much of that reporting appears to be irresponsible. But, great leaders don’t take everything so personally. They attempt to put such attacks in context. Hard to do? Of course. But that’s what great leadership is all about. Thinking about the bigger picture and not simply how things affect you on a personal or human level is what great leaders do on a daily basis.
As for the media? He consistently calls them “dishonest” and “horrible.” In his recent press conference he even refused to take a question from CNN's Jim Acosta, because he thought their coverage of him was unfair. Further, Acosta was allegedly threatened with removal by Trump's communications team for continually trying to get his question in. That's not real leadership, that's dictatorship.
And back to name calling, he has continually called women names based on their physical appearance and ridiculed others using derogatory language. Great leaders don’t get into the gutter and call people names. He called the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, a “clown.” Great leaders, especially the President of the United States, don’t engage in name calling. It doesn’t make the leader tough, it makes him sound like a third-grader.
But my greatest concern about soon-to-be President Trump and his leadership style, is his constant refusal to take responsibility for his actions. When Meryl Streep, at the Golden Globes, delivered a powerful and emotional speech, saying how much it hurt to watch Trump mock a disabled New York Times reporter, I understood exactly what she meant. I too was sickened along with millions of others. All Trump had to say, then or even now, was that he knew he was wrong, that he went over the line and that he learned from it. But no, he insists he never mocked the reporter, even though it was the only time in all of his speeches where he gesticulated with his arms and hands in this fashion and distorted his voice accordingly in imitating the reporter. Look at the video. Do you think it’s a coincidence? I don’t. The point here is simply this: great leaders make mistakes. We all do. But you have to own it. Trump can’t. His ego gets in the way and he lacks the empathy to be “other-centric.”
Donald Trump clearly has leadership skills or he wouldn’t have won this election. He can read an audience better than most and yes, he is a dynamic and charismatic public speaker. He will be our president in just a few days, and my concerns about his leadership style are mostly about demeanor and temperament. If he wants to succeed and bring us together and be respected by those beyond the folks who believe in him now, he will have to do one more thing that great leaders do, which may be the hardest. Truly great leaders are constantly looking to improve themselves and grow. To learn. To get better. To take a hard look at themselves. To be truly introspective. Is President-Elect Trump capable of doing this? At 70, he hasn’t shown it yet, but I’m an optimist and believe that anything is possible.
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