Tag Archives: Effective leadership

Trump’s Leadership of Personality

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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.

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Cruz Offers Evidence of Being Severely Leadership-Challenged

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It has always been my contention that one of the best ways to learn to be an effective leader is to closely study the approach and actions of those in leadership roles; both those who are effective and those who fail.

The most important aspect of leadership is the cultural environment created by the leader, because it ultimately defines the success or failure of the leader. The culture created by a leader is the conduit to communicate what the leader is about as a person, what they are for, and what they seek to achieve. Another value of the culture established by a leader is that it encourages and empowers followers to take actions they believe are aligned with the leader’s desires; even if the leader is not directly involved in the actions. As we will see, when a culture is not predicated on sound principles of integrity or the message is inconsistent, bad results can happen.   

For the leader to be effective, the message of the culture must be consistent and unrelenting. Only chaos follows when a leader is not clear about their values or does not adhere to the principles they have espoused. Observing how leaders build their culture of leadership, how they react to different situations, the examples they set for followers and how they interact with them is a great way to learn what you should do or not do as a leader.

The culture of leadership created by the leader can be for good or evil, but only those built on sound, positive principles that are unflaggingly adhered to can bring about lasting leadership success. Those cultures that are not a true reflection of the leader’s core beliefs (good or bad) or are based on less than the highest levels of integrity may be successful in the short term, but ultimately they will cause the downfall of the leader.  

My belief is that one of the best ways to see this dynamic in action is to be a close observer of the political process. Besides, when it comes to deciding who to support as a political leader, the clearest signal the candidate sends out as to what type of leader they will be, is not what they say or promise during the campaign, but the type of culture they create around themselves in order to get elected. Studying the leadership styles exhibited in an election campaign is a great way to learn about leadership, because it is very visible and it is conducted over a limited period of time.  

Leadership Cultures of Nixon and Cruz

The leadership style and culture created by Richard Nixon is a great case in point. Nixon campaigned on the theme of “bring us together,” but his real strategy was to divide and conquer. Once Nixon was elected, he created a deceitful bunker-mentality culture based on an “us against them” theme. For Nixon, if you were not for him, you were an enemy to be vanquished. The Nixon culture sent the message to followers that any action – legal or illegal – against his enemies was acceptable. This approach to leadership was effective for a while – he did win reelection in a landslide – but in the end it led to his disgrace and downfall; as well as jail for many of his followers who had bought into the flawed culture created by Nixon.  

By all available evidence, Ted Cruz is also one of those leaders we can learn from by recognizing what we should not do as a leader, if we want to be successful. Cruz seems to be building a campaign culture that Nixon would be comfortable with. While Cruz talks about honesty, integrity and the essence of purity in his conservative beliefs, the actions of his campaign workers signal that he is creating a different type of culture. The problem with the leadership culture Cruz is building is that it is based on deceit. He talks of honesty and integrity but allows (if not encourages) the opposite. The message sent by the Cruz culture is that lying, cheating, and dirty tricks are acceptable so long as they help him become the nominee.

The first evidence of this emerged at the Iowa primary when the Cruz campaign disseminated word that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race and his voters should turn to Cruz. This came along with an extensive direct mail piece about “voter violation,” attempting to confuse and intimidate voters. This was soon followed by a Photoshop altered photo attempting to show Mark Rubio cavorting with President Obama. Not long after that a video of Marko Rubio supposedly rejecting the Bible was released by the Cruz campaign. The only problem was that the video had been unscrupulously edited to make Rubio look bad.

When the complaints about this type of activity reached a crescendo, what did Cruz do? Just like Nixon, he disavowed knowledge of any of these activities and fired the senior campaign worker who released the video. (There had been no accountability for the first two actions.) This is another example of the type of leader Cruz might be if elected. Rather than stepping up and accepting responsibility for the type of campaign culture he had created and committing to make a change, he threw the guy who thought he was doing what Cruz had sanctioned via his cultural message under the bus. A leader who does not understand and control the message being conveyed by his culture is not really a leader; or will soon be a failed one.

But there is clear evidence that Cruz understands very well the Nixonian culture he is building. After all, the man he has hired to be his campaign manager – Jeff Roe – has been characterized by the New York Times as “an operative with a reputation for scorching earth, stretching truths and winning elections.” Mr. Roe is considered by many to be the current “master of dirty tricks.” And this is the man Cruz has hired to bring his brand of leadership culture to life.

And the Moral of the Story …

Remember that the effectiveness and longevity of your leadership will be determined less by the words you speak or the public face you wear. It is the culture of leadership you create that will identify your true leadership success, because it offers the real message of who you are and what you are about. That is why Cruz – as Nixon was – appears to be leadership challenged.

(It is only fair to note that the culture of leadership being created by Trump also shows signs of poor leadership. There is a difference between the two, and we will discuss the failing of Trump leadership next time; so long as he is still in the race.)

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Can Trust Be Earned If It Is not Given?

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We all understand that trust is essential to the development and continuity of personal relations. But for some reason, many tend to discount the need for trust in business relationships. This is especially true for those in a position of authority or leadership; and that’s a big mistake. While it is true that trust is not needed for others to follow your orders, trust is indispensable if you want them to follow your lead.

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