What the Trump Implosion Tells Us About Leadership

Donald Trump’s first few months in office have been one massive problem after another. His inexperience and incompetence are on full display almost every day.

Trump was great at getting elected, and since then it’s basically been all downhill: scandals, possible illegal activities, firings of top-level officials, important jobs left unfilled, failed bills, and talk of impeachment.

How does such a successful business leader fail so spectacularly?

Quite simply, Trump’s skills are a mismatch for his current job. From Rick Newman:

But Trump is not governing like a CEO. […] If anything, his political operation is like a wackadoodle startup burning its funding on distractions while trying to figure out what its core competency is.

Understanding the kind of company Trump ran might explain why. He inherited his father’s business and built it into the Trump Organization, a notable real-estate developer but one that was always private and closely held by the family. There were no shareholders. No public filings. No public scrutiny by Wall Street analysts. Trump made decisions with a small coterie of family members and close advisers. What happened in Trumpland stayed in Trumpland. There were no leaks or embarrassing revelations—except when various casinos had to declare bankruptcy—because Trump could count on loyalty from a tiny group of people he had known for years.

Running a privately-held company might be great training for a military junta or autocracy (hence Trump’s praising of Vladimir Putin).

Decisiveness in the face of controversy, a willingness to steamroll over detractors, and the ability to move forward on massive projects quickly and aggressively, will serve a dictator very well.

But in a situation where you have limited powers and must rely on a large number of stakeholders to get things done (each with their own interests and agendas), it’s a totally different story.

Experience as a CEO of a public corporation would indeed, as Rick Newman suggests, be much better training for a position such as American President. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.

Effective presidents are highly skilled at building coalitions and partnerships with legislators and technocrats, managing the message that gets out to the media, and negotiating and compromising with the other party to get their agenda through.

Lyndon Johnson is one example of a President who was able to get a huge amount of legislation passed very quickly upon taking office. This was because of his years building relationships and doing favors in the House and Senate–favors that he could call in as President.

Ronald Reagan, another “outsider” type who nevertheless had experience as California Governor before getting elected, was another President who was able to work with the opposite party to get things done.

In most of life, we do not have total control over the situation. This is especially true if we are punching above our weight, trying to reach a much higher level of success.

This means we have to build bridges and forge alliances. We have to do things that may hurt us in the short term, for the purpose of building long-term momentum towards our ultimate goals.

Good relationships are key. An effective leader gets what he wants, by helping others get what they want.

Patience and looking at the big picture are essential. Two things which Donald Trump is terrible at.

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