By Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
I’ve held off on writing a Lessons in Leadership column in connection with the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Yet, it would be irresponsible of me not to write this one following the third presidential debate. Frankly, I’ve waited for all three debates to
take place which offer countless “lessons” not just in leadership but in communication, executive presence, demeanor and how a mature person should conduct him or herself when dealing with important issues.
I’ll be offering many of these perspectives on FOX News early Tuesday morning, October 25th, but in the meantime I wanted to share some key lessons particularly from last night’s debate. Overall, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried themselves pretty well and shared a fair amount of substance on key issues. They clearly have different perspectives and they communicated those opinions relatively well. Yet, what was especially disappointing was the inability of both candidates to own their most obvious mistakes in judgment as well as their actions.
For example, when Hillary Clinton was asked directly by Chris Wallace of FOX News (who did an exceptional job as moderator) about the potential conflicts connected to those who made large contributions to the Clinton Foundation and who had potentially received special access or favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was Secretary of State – all she could offer was how great the Clinton Foundation is and how many people it has helped. While that may all be very true, Secretary Clinton owed us more. She owed us a direct response to a very serious question about those potential conflicts which you don’t have to be a Democrat, a Republican or Independent to be concerned about.
As for Donald Trump, it was pathetic when he responded to Chris Wallace’s question regarding the allegations of several women who said Trump had made unwanted sexual advances toward them. Particularly, after Trump had clearly stated in the second debate – in response to CNN’s Anderson Cooper – that he in fact had done no such thing all after the atrocious Access Hollywood tape from 2005 was revealed. Trump said not only that all of these women were lying but that he didn’t know any of them, when this clearly is an outright lie. Of course he knows some of them. That has been documented.
On the question of leadership and its connection to demeanor, while Trump carried himself a bit better than he had in the previous two debates, his constant interrupting and muttering (ultimately calling Hillary Clinton “a nasty woman” under his breath) was sophomoric and immature. These are clearly not great leadership traits.
For all of Clinton’s faults and the fact that she has a well-earned reputation for not being especially trustworthy (a definite leadership issue,) she has the unique ability to get under Trump’s skin. But the most memorable and most significant Lesson in Leadership that came from this third debate occurred at the end when Chris Wallace asked Trump, after claiming the election is “rigged,” whether or not he would accept the outcome of this race. Even after Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, Trump campaign manger Kellyanne Conway and Trump’s own daughter Ivanka said accepting the outcome was the right thing to do, Trump said he would keep us “in suspense" about whether he would concede if he loses and would “look at it at the time…” as if this is some sort of reality show, like “Celebrity Apprentice,” where the stakes don’t matter.
Well, it’s not. The stakes do matter. The peaceful transition of power when it comes to the U.S. presidency is one of the things that makes our country so different from other countries that transfer power only through violence or the radical overthrow of government through military forces. Trump had a unique opportunity to step up and show real leadership and the great “demeanor” he brags about by simply saying; “I have real concerns about this election being run in a fair and above board fashion and we have to make sure that election officials make that happen, but of course – win or lose – I will accept the results... because what matters most is that our country becomes united after this election and deals with the serious challenges we face moving forward regardless of which one of us wins.” That’s real leadership. Yet, Trump couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. He was too petty, immature and childish.
Look, I’ve had my share of rejection. In the mid 80s at 25, I became the youngest member to win a seat in the State Legislature but a couple of years later I lost that seat. Before I won my first Emmy Award I lost over a dozen times. I didn’t make it in college as a football star and never got accepted to an Ivy League school. In all those cases, was I supposed to say the system was rigged? When you compete you have to accept the outcome. Doing anything otherwise makes you a sore loser and more importantly a weak leader. Further, Trump’s actions and comments send a dangerous message to all of his supporters who may be convinced that Hillary Clinton is not the legitimate president of our country if she wins. That won’t mean anything good for our country.
Ultimately, great leaders see the bigger picture and understand that sometimes even if we feel aggrieved, we must step up and accept the outcome. This is especially true when millions see you as their leader and are prepared to follow you. What Trump communicated in the third presidential debate was dangerous, wrong and a sure sign that he lacks the leadership traits to lead this country. Further, it makes a very flawed Hillary Clinton look like a better by comparison.