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17 Aug 2015

4 Leadership Lessons from Donald Trump Phenomenon

The Donald Trump phenomenon turns over the rock upon which many leadership models are built.

Genius or clown? The Donald Trump phenomenon turns over the rock upon which many leadership models are built. What do we find?

Donald Trump is a leader. Like it or not. He challenges politics. He challenges leadership too. What does the Donald Trump phenomenon tell us?

For example, most models present leadership as something almost divine. Leaders are altruistic and authentic. Their character is pristine, trustworthy. They unify all. They are things that . . . only gods are.

What about leaders we do not like? What do these models say then? They like to say, “That’s not leadership!” or “That’s bad leadership!” Do not let them off that easy.

The Donald Trump Phenomenon turns over the rock upon which all these models are built. Bugs scamper for the shadows. What are they? Let us name them.

1. Confidence Seduces

Trump has confidence. We love confident people. They give us certainty in life. We do not like arrogant ones though. If we have good vibes, he is confident. If not, he is arrogant.

The bug is that there is power in sheer confidence, pure unapologetic confidence. Trump’s form is extreme. It dwarfs other factors. We get to see confidence naked. We see its raw power to convince when nothing else might be there.

2. Authenticity is about Perception

Authenticity is a bug too. Fans like to say, “I like authentic people.” When they run into people they do not like though, they often claim they are not authentic.

This is subjective too. Many like Donald Trump for his authenticity. Many do not like him because he is not.

This sheds light on an ugly truth about authenticity. It is not about whether we are or are not. It is about whether others perceive us so. It is telling our story in a good light. It is selling ourselves.

3. Donald Trump Phenomenon is Positive

What will be the outcome of the Donald Trump Phenomenon? Who knows? One thing is positive though. It will be victory for Trump.

How do we know? He will tell us. It does not matter if it is. We like leaders who refuse defeat. They do not stop fighting. They do not surrender. They see things in a positive light even if it is dark out, very dark.

4. Leadership is Subjective

The biggest bug under this rock touches all the rest. Leadership is subjective. Many like Trump’s brand of leadership. Many do not.

A leader could be a genius to one and a clown to the next. Even gods have a hard time getting all people to see them the same way.

This colors how we see leaders. If we have good vibes, they are all things good. If we do not, they are not.

What is the overall lesson from this overturned rock? The seduction is powerful. It stops us from asking what leaders are being authentic, confident and positive about. We just like these things. Ask anyone.

The Donald Trump phenomenon reminds us that these things are subjective. We each decide what leadership is. It is personal. No expert can tell us. If we do not like it, we just say it is not leadership. Experts do.


Video: Leadership is Subjective


6 Responses

  1. Two more lessons, for me at least:

    1. He is a loner in a team world – especially government. His not ruling out a third-party candidacy confirms that. As Presidents, there are loners (Carter and Obama for example) and team players (Reagan and Clinton for example). Team players have a chance to get some things done. True, also, as a business leader.

    2. He is for the most part, a negative person (I will STOP …). Leaders must be positive / optimistic to be effective.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, John. What fascinates me about leadership is that many people use the same characteristics to describe it. When it comes to applying those characteristics though, that is very subjective. For example, many believe he is not a loner. Many believe he is positive. What is or is not a leader is a personal decision. There are millions of different definitions for leadership. More are being defined every day.

  2. Interesting perspective about leadership and how one perceives leaders. Yes leadership is subjective; as is everything in fact if one uses the label leader to mean anyone at the head of the pack. That in my in opinion is a very simplistic and unprincipled definition. It is also the label that is commonly used to describe heads of national governments. Few of those in our world are in fact leaders, as the chaotic state of many nations proves. They are like Trump who is leading his pack currently. But true leadership and leaders have goals and operate on the basis of accepted leadership principles. We can accept the dumbing down of Leadership as a science and art, saying say that anyone, even people like Donald Trump are leaders. Or humans can aspire to a higher criterion for leaders and leadership. The author somewhat cynically sees principled leadership as described in The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as “something almost divine. Leaders are altruistic and authentic. Their character is pristine, trustworthy. They unify all. They are things that . . . only gods are.” Whether is accurate in his assessment of human potential or not, we can all aspire to becoming competent and artful servant leaders, even though we may not be gods. We can still strive to be godlike. Lol

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, Joseph, for your insights.

      I’m sorry you see subjectivity so simplistic and unprincipled. In reality, it is very complex and has many, many principles to it which are highly integrated and unconscious. I can see though where many see this complexity and integration as chaotic and unprincipled. It’s like nature. It seems wild. Yet, it is a highly integrated system that wastes nothing.

      Your definition also proves the importance of accepting subjectivity as reality. As you said, your view is an opinion, therefore subjective. For instance, do you believe that you cannot find more than just a few people who find Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton altruistic and authentic? Pristine and worthy? Competent and artful?

      From this perspective, the view you promote of leadership is overly intellectualized, superficial, Pollyannaish and indiscriminant. It doesn’t connect with the deeper aspects of what it means to be an individual. It seeks to eradicate individualism for a universal, objectivized, monolithic view of leadership that fits what you desire to see in your leaders.

      Yes, we can all strive to be godlike, but which god? God is subjective. Again, your example is proof that subjectivity is a reality we must deal with, not gloss over with some intellectualized objectivism. If all people should hold a single, principled view of leadership, do you also believe they must all do the same with god and religion? Even Jesus Christ, at his time, was seen as a criminal, a false prophet, a man, a prophet and the son of God. What was he? Do you believe all people should have the same view just to say we adhere to some simple, principled definition? When we eradicate subjectivity, we eradicate individualism. We create the very simplicity you seek to avoid.

      Lastly, even though I am a Lao Tzu fan, I do consider his comments in the perspective of the times. The problem is exactly what he says, leadership is “something almost divine.” It’s dangerous to have anyone think our leaders approach, or should approach divinity. For Lao Tzu, that was accepted at that time. They felt leaders were direct descendants of gods. It’s all right to strive to be godlike as long as we don’t believe we are god. Unfortunately, the nature of leadership is to encourage those to think they are god, especially the weak ones. That is how leadership brings weak leaders to ruin. Bad for us, they take many innocent victims along with them.

      As a psychologist pointed out to me, the most dangerous time of the day is noon for that is when humans don’t see their shadows. Thinking leadership is something close to divine only encourages one to be blind to his shadow. It’s better to see leadership as merely a role. People will see what they want in their leaders. If they like them, they will see them as the leader you describe and want. If they don’t, they won’t. There are many people who see Trump and Clinton as your type of leader. They are all right. Just ask them.

      Again, thank you for your insights, Joseph. They provoked much thought in me, thus inspirational. I appreciate you taking time to visit and share them.

  3. JP Paz SOldan

    1) Leadership is not always subjective. You need to be clear on how you mean by leadership and by subjetive, otherwise the statement is meaningless.

    2) The term “subjective” is used in an ambiguous way by many people to argue against a point of view with which they disagree. For starters, “objective” and “true” are not synonims. To avoid phylosophical digressions, I will state that with regards to management concepts I prefer the definition of subjective as “being that which is perceived by one” and objective as “that which is perceived by the many”. (BTW, this definition is very useful when arguing in companies on initiatives, for instance, the benefits of a 360 performance evaluation, the value of using cualitative metrics, etc when “subjective” is used as a derogatory term that clogs productive argument).

    3) There are many definitions of leadership, but leadership has a historic origin which we should respect, (Words have rights too). In that historic context, leaders (often military) are those able to mobilize people towards a common goal (usually defense or conquest).

    4) Leaders fall in a scale of “goodness”, between the archetypical extremes of Hitler and Mother Teresa. So “luminosity” of (earthly) leaders is really a scale of greys. Leaders are not just different in their overall behaviour, thet are also alive! They may give magnanimous instructions in the morning and order a missile launch in the afternoon.

    5) You should not equate historic leaders and management leaders in the same sentence. For example, intent is a recurring theme when judging the morality of a management leader. When we are dealing with leaders whose actions affect millions, judgement will be made by historians on the complex consequences of their actions.

    5) I believe Trump will do a lot of damage to the US and to the world and that he is the archetypical demagogue (we in Latin America know them very well, but americans would do well to look it up in Wikipedia), but also that Trump is a very authentic person. He is shamelss and confesses this frequently and openly. He has said he will stop at nothing to win (bluffing, smearing someone´s reputation and any other form of lying included), that he always doubles on his bets (and finds a way to blame it on others and have someone else inherit the mess), that he holds grudges and takes revenge, that everything to him is always “about the Trump show” and that he respects strongmen.. Look up his 1990 PlayBoy interview. . That 30 year old interview is the equivalent of Hitler´s Mein Kampf and now required reading for visiting presidents to the White House. As you will see, he has maintained an amazingly consistent view of the world and shows exactly what he is made of.

    May God save America (and the rest of us).

    JP Paz Soldan
    Change Management Consultant

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, JP, for your insights. Yes, I could have spent a whole post on the definition of subjective. You’re right that having a common understanding of definitions facilitates discussions.

      In the sense of this post, it’s a matter of personal preference which was clearly the theme in the post. I’m sorry you could not see that and found it too ambiguous for your taste. Did you happen to view the video? If not, that might help you.

      In terms of 2) I go beyond perception to emotions, thoughts and feelings, so my basic definitions of each differ much from yours. There are also conscious and unconscious influences. The definitions you pose are too shallow for my needs. Still, I respect the fact that such definitions are purely subjective depending on the person and the needs.

      In regards to 3) you’re right. We should respect historical origins. And, you’re right again, there are many definitions of leadership (such as there is with love too). That only reinforces the argument that leadership is subjective no matter what domain or discipline we discuss.

      In regards to 4) what is good varies by person just as leadership does. Yes, archetypical extremes do exist. Even Jung though suggests that these extremes tap into different parts of the individual and collective unconscious. How so, varies by person, again subjectively.

      In regards to 5) I disagree. One can compare. I look at life holistically, not departmentally. How leaders become leaders might be different. Context will also vary, but in the end, their selection is purely subjective depending upon those involved in the selection and how they interpret their local facts and circumstances. This can be many, it can be a group, a committee or even one person. Subjectivity applies regardless.

      In regards to 6) I agree with you. You’re right. He projects what he will do very much in the way he criticizes others. His warnings about Hillary becoming embroiled in investigations if elected, his complaints about Obama golfing too much, his rants about Hillary being too wedded to Goldman Sachs are very prophetic projections of his.

      Again, JP, thank you for stopping by and leaving your insights. I appreciate it.

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