The most recent blog suggesting that presidential candidate Ted Cruz exhibits evidence of being “leadership challenged,” (Click Here to Read) provoked a virtual hornet’s nest of acrimonious comments from zealous Cruz believers. There were no specific counterpoints offered to refute the charge that Cruz displayed elements of leadership weakness, but the Cruzites did suggest that the blog was poorly written, illogical and that I was not qualified to write about leadership. In short, the Cruz protectors had a knee-jerk reaction that the blog was simply a “hatchet-job” on Cruz. (Makes me wonder where these Cruzites were when I wrote about President Obama’s weaknesses in leadership.)
What the Cruz defenders failed to notice was that at no point did the blog criticize any of his policies or positions on issues. What the blog did take issue with was his style of leadership. The only suggestion was that the “culture of leadership” Cruz was creating is inconsistent with effective leadership and that this could lead to his failure to achieve his stated policies and goals.
The purpose of the blog was to offer a real-life learning experience for those who do seek to become successful leaders; not as an attack on Cruz policies. If the Cruz supporters lacked the intellectual capacity to perceive this, I apologize to them for writing over their heads.
After over 40 years as a senior executive and successful entrepreneur I feel both the right and obligation to pass on what has been experienced and learned about leadership. I am not suggesting that what I did and learned was right, only that others can learn from it. My belief has always been that the best way to learn about leadership – good or bad – is to observe it in real-life. This has been a consistent approach in the hundreds of blogs, as well as the four books, I have written over the past dozen years.
The Leadership of Donald Trump
With that in mind, let’s move on to what may be an even more cogent lesson in effective leadership – or lack thereof – demonstrated by Trump.
For transparency purposes I have to disclose a certain amount of affinity with Trump’s effort to disrupt the calcified status quo of the Republican establishment. After all, I took the same approach against the even more entrenched status quo of the insurance establishment. I can relate to the attacks on Trump, because there were efforts to drum me out of the insurance industry and I was once referred to as the “anti-Christ” of the insurance industry. (If you want the details, you can go to Amazon and purchase my book – CHEAT TO WIN – The honest way to break all the dishonest rules in business.)
I may not agree with Trump’s personal style of business leadership, but it is hard to argue with his success. However, I stridently disagree with the leadership style he exhibits in his run for the Republican nomination. Even if he is successful in attaining the nomination and then winning the general election, it is a flawed approach to leadership that will doom him – and maybe the country – to failure. But it does offer a lesson to learn by anyone who seeks success as a leader.
The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s Leadership
One can be uncomfortable with Trump’s bombastic public persona in the campaign, because he can be demeaning, uncouth and in some cases even vulgar, but give him credit, it is this approach that has exposed the intransigence and obstinacy of the establishment and vaulted him into the lead for the nomination. No doubt, if Trump “played nice” by the rules of the Republican establishment, he would be long gone from the race. Trump has forced the Republican Party and the other candidates to face issues they just as soon would have wanted left dormant.
What I do disagree with and what is a great lesson in leadership to learn is the style of leadership Trump is espousing. The crucible of Trump’s leadership is that of a “cult of personality.” In short, Trump makes it all about Trump. You may recall videos of a few recent Trump meetings where he asks those in attendance to “raise their right hands and pledge their support to him.” Real leaders pledge their support to the followers, not the other way around. When Trump was asked who he looks to for advice and counsel, his answer was in essence, “Me, Myself and I.” Certainly leaders must be confident in their ability to lead, but they should never fall prey to the mentality that their way is the only way. Trump talks about the big things “he will do,” as if he has some divine power that will enable him to “make it happen.” This is probably the absolute worst trait a leader can display to followers.
The real weakness of leadership based simply on the strength of personality that Trump practices is that it raises false expectations of easy success and disempowers followers to participate in achieving the goal. When it is all about the leader, followers are given the impression that all they have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride as the leader leads them to salvation. This in turn sows the seeds for disappointment, dissatisfaction and disillusion when the leader’s lack of divine power is exposed. Leadership based on a cult of personality ultimately leaves the leader stranded alone on a deserted island, with the water rising rapidly.
Real Leadership is About Them Not You
To achieve long term effectiveness and success, leaders have to give followers a reason to follow; and it can’t be just about the leader. Effective leaders focus the attention on the followers and what the leader will do to support their effort to achieve a group goal. The true leader is a facilitator who motivates and empowers others to do the things that need to be done to achieve the objective.
To paraphrase John Kennedy, leadership is not about what people can do for the leader, but what the leader can do for the people. This is not a leadership lesson that Trump has learned, but it is one that you should if you want to be an effective leader.