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Phagwara, Punjab


The 45th President of the United States is like no other incumbent of the Oval Office. Like him or
not, it’s difficult to ignore Donald Trump. He dominates news headlines and creates a whirlwind
of interest both in and out of America. There’s another reason why he’s unique - he’s the first US
President with no prior political or military experience. Instead, Trump arrives in the White
House as a businessman first and foremost and makes a lot of this background; using it to
demonstrate why he’s different from the ‘swamp’ he has vowed to drain.

But what makes him tick? Now that we’re into the second year of a Trump Presidency, is there
anything we’ve learned about his leadership style and what it means to have a businessman
instead of a politician as the ‘leader of the free world’?


The presidency of Donald Trump has been unique in the modern history of the U.S., to say the
least. Trump’s unorthodox strategies, his thin skin and harsh attacks on his critics, and his
impulsivity, offer important lessons for leaders if we combine his tactics with research on what
makes leaders successful and unsuccessful.

 First, we have to distinguish between obtaining a leadership position, and actually being
successful in a leadership position. The factors that get you into a leadership position are
somewhat different than those that make you an effective leader. Look around at top-
level leaders and they are predominantly White, male, and confident. These attributes
helped Trump get elected. Being extroverted and seeming powerful also help in attaining
leadership positions, again, Trump benefits. No surprises, but here’s where it gets

 However, a subset of people views “strongman” leaders – those who are pushy,
manipulative, conceited, and selfish – as ideal leaders to follow. Possessing these
leadership qualities is labeled “tyrannical leadership” (although that term may be too
strong). President Trump fits the strongman, tyrannical prototype. These types of leaders
may be initially successful, but over time, followers’ support may diminish, as the leader
bullies and overreaches. However, a core of loyal followers will remain. This seems to fit
the bill for President Trump.

 A key element of effective leadership involves delegation of responsibilities to followers.

This serves to both free up the leader to work on important projects, but also helps
develop followers’ own leadership capacity. A truly good leader develops followers
through giving them increased responsibilities and supporting their efforts. This is a
cornerstone of transformational leadership.

 President Trump uses more of the “sink or swim” type of leadership, what is referred to
as “management-by-exception.” This type of leader allows followers to take on
responsibilities, but only intervenes to correct poor performance. In fact, Trump seems to
allow subordinates a lot of leeway, but if they get out of line, or disagree with him,
“You’re fired!”

 President Trump uses a whole host of psychological strategies to attract followers and
keep them loyal. He is a master of using the well-known in-group, out-group bias.
Singling out “enemies” who are used to solidify in-group support. Terrorists, immigrants,
Muslims, and recently, Democrats, are identified by Trump as potential sources of threat
to his in-group of followers. And, he has labeled the mainstream media as “enemies of
the people.” Although this in-group, out-group bias builds support from Trump’s core
followers, it makes it extremely difficult for the opposing groups to ever work
constructively together. This causes ineffective leadership in the long run.

 Importantly, Trump puts himself at the center of the nation’s leadership (“I alone can fix
our problems”). This is authoritarian leadership, and generally not effective in the long
run. The reality is that leadership, particularly of a nation, is complex and takes the leader
working in concert with the inner circle, and with others. In the long run, top-down,
authoritarian leadership is less effective than shared, team leadership.
 He's an aggressive negotiator

Trump frequently touts being able to make deals as one of his greatest management strengths.
His ghost-written best-seller "The Art of the Deal," highlighted some of his aggressive
negotiation strategies, like being prepared to alienate people and blur the truth in order to get
what you want (although the book also acknowledged that the best deals allow both parties walk
away satisfied).

Trump once summed up his mantra on negotiating to Business Insider: "It's give-and-take. But
it's got to be mostly taking. Because you can't give. You gotta mostly take."

Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and

co-author of "The Cost of Bad Behavior," told Business Insider that such a tactic can only go so
far. She said that managers must often take an assertive stance in negotiations, but a pattern of
antagonism can wear thin. "It may be very appropriate for Trump or any other leader to use that
style of negotiation, if the issue's very important to us or if he's up against someone with that
style, because you don't want to get steamrolled," she said. "Typically, if there's a pattern of that
style, people will not want to work with you. You're losing out on the relationship or the long-
term gain of being able to collaborate with a person, group, or country."

"Friend or Foe" co-author and Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer said that reports of
squabbles with Australia, Mexico, and the EU might be a sign that Trump's style is not effective
for dealing with long-term allies. "I would say the foundations for negotiation require careful
attention," Schweitzer said. "This isn't to say you can't bring down a heavy hammer and exploit
leverage that you have.

You can do that in a short-term way that extracts surplus, but, in the long run, it's not an effective
strategy." His co-author, Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, agreed that a
more nuanced approach is usually needed when hashing out any sort of deal. "The lighter your
touch, the less people think they're being pushed by you, the more likely to think that something
is of their own volition, the more likely they are to own it and embrace it," he said.
 He has business management experience
Porath said that Trump's business experience is his biggest strength when it comes to tackling the
challenge of managing the executive branch. Trump has had a hand in his family's real estate
business since he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. "He has a lot of
experiences to draw from," Porath said. "It's experience with having to deal with different parties
to get deals done. For example, I imagine that with his real estate dealings, you have to work
with a lot of people, whether to buy the property and or to make changes and or to get things

 He's a top-down manager

As president, Trump must navigate an increasingly uncertain world. Escalating tensions with
North Korea, repealing and replacing Obama care, and navigating relations with the Kremlin are
just some of the challenges on the table.

MIT Sloan School of Management professor Hal Gregersen said he would characterize Trump
as a "top-down" or "command-and-control" manager. He said that such leaders tend to work best
in "predictable and certain" atmospheres. "If we look at the opposite extreme, where it's unclear
what to do or it's even unclear what to pay attention to, a top-down, command-control approach
to leadership can become can become an extremely dangerous Achilles heel for any leader," he
said. Paraphrasing former United States Secretary…

 He's high-energy
Whether he's tackling a speech at a rally or a contentious press conference, Trump seems to bring
a certain intense energy to his appearances (especially considering he's previously said he only
sleeps about four hours every night). Schweitzer identified Trump's energy as the president's
greatest management strength. "He is very goal-oriented and driven, and this sort of energy and
motivation creates a lot of momentum in some directions," Schweitzer said.

Gregersen said that to improve as a manager, Trump should redirect this energy. "If Trump
could shift his exceptional ability to promote himself to an equally exceptional ability to promote
the pursuit of truth about different situations, something powerfully good could come of his
presidency," Gregersen said.
 He projects confidence
Trump's boundless confidence — which some mental health experts characterize as narcissism
— is one of his most recognizable attributes. On the campaign trail, he frequently described
himself as the "only one" who would be able to fix litany problems facing the country.

"I think we are attracted to confidence, but I think eventually that confidence has to be connected
to actual performance," Galinsky said. "When we think about strong leaders we think about
confidence. And then there's overconfidence."

Galinsky said that the best leader's sense of confidence should always be matched by a strong
feeling of accountability.

 He struggles to establish credibility

The Trump administration has come under fire for playing fast and loose with the truth at times.
Flare-ups have included Trump's untrue or unverified claims about the murder rate, voter fraud,
or the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower. Meanwhile, Trump staffers like Kellyanne Conway
and Reince Priebus have been criticized for making false claims about everything from a
fictitious terrorist attack to the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Gregersen said that under
normal circumstances, a manager can only stifle the truth within his own organization for so

 He takes a harsh tone

It's no secret that Trump has a history of attacking a long list of institutions, groups of people,
and individuals. Some supporters seem to gravitate toward that tough tone, but Porath said that
this aggressive style is not the most effective management strategy.

Instead, as she argued in an article for the McKinsey Quarterly, she said that a sense of civility
is a better approach. "People are more likely to get on board, they're more likely to support you,
and you have a better reputation," she told Business Insider. "One of the reasons that we find that
civility pays so much is because it evokes feelings of warmth and competence." Porath said that
"warmth" is the most important trait for a leader to have, and that people tend to prefer.
 He's involved in the details
Schweitzer and Galinsky characterized Trump as a "unfocused micro-manager."

"In the moment, he's taking this very deep dive, then the wind changes and he's off to something
else," Schweitzer said. "It's very hard to figure out, are we focused on health care, are we focused
on immigration, are we focused on security? I don't know what we're doing, but he's jumping
around, in a way. When he jumps somewhere it's a very deep dive, and there isn't an overarching
vision or framework."Galinsky said that Trump could "get his groove back" by disciplining
himself to focus on one or two issues for a period of time.

 He's loyal to a fault

"I think one positive thing about his management style is he is on average very loyal," Galinsky
said. "If you show loyalty to him, he'll show it to you. He supported Flynn to the end. He was
forced by Republican insiders like Pence and Priebus to get rid of Flynn, but he is loyal."

"From my perspective, the moment a leader puts loyalty to them above the purpose of the
organization or above truth-seeking in a situation, they are setting the stage for disaster," he said.
"It's not that loyalty doesn't count. It just doesn't count as much as some other things, especially
in situations where the world is rapidly changing."


Research on people’s “ideal” styles of leadership suggest that the majority of people’s ideal
leader possesses intelligence, is hard-working, honest, and compassionate. Not surprisingly,
these ideal leader qualities are those that are actually related to leader effectiveness. Trump
doesn’t seem to be particularly strong in any of these areas.
 War of words
The usual rules of engagement - and language of politics - have certainly been ignored by the
Trump Presidency. Rather than talk in spin or sound bites, Trump’s utterances have been tougher
and more direct.

The US President has been engaged in high-profile spats with the likes of North Korean leader
Kim Jong-un, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his time
in office. The rows have often played out in public, with the President making his views known
to his 53.3 million Twitter followers.

His tweets and spats spark headlines, but it’s important to realize that they don’t necessarily have
the impact that you might think. Indeed, the dollar was strengthened after Trump’s ‘fire and fury’
and ‘nuclear button’ warnings to Kim Jong-un. Trump’s tough talk goes down well with his
supporters and the markets and it’s a big part of the strongman image he cultivates. Some
businesses thrive on a tough image - Trump certainly feels this is the case for USA PLC.

 Slogans and speeches

Politicians can learn a lot from businesses when it comes to getting across their messages.
Successful businesses should have perfected the art of marketing, with campaigns based on clear,
catchy slogans for their products – something which Trump has deployed effectively in the
political sphere.
Indeed, Trump’s election success was built on the back of the ‘Make America Great Again’
slogan. Many of his voters, particularly those who don’t spend their days obsessing about the
finer details of the news and policy making, connect with his simple speaking style. After all, his
‘customers’ weren’t necessarily academics or media types, they were the ‘average voter’. His
speeches are often filled with short, memorable slogans that can easily be clipped into news
items and social media snippets as a result. His language is also often confident and inspirational
regardless of the subject matter – with words such as ‘winning’, ‘believe’ and ‘incredible’ often
featuring in his speeches. He sells his politics how businesses sell their products.
 Aggressive towards the media

Businesses know that their reputation matters and that negative media coverage can stick. Some
choose to fight to retain control of their reputation and that has certainly been the case for
‘Trump the businessman’ and now ‘Trump the politician’. Trump’s actions might well attract
column inches but his relationship with the press is different. The Hill quite neatly describes this
as a ‘dysfunctional symbiotic relationship’ in which both sides regularly attack one another. He
held just one solo press conference in his first year in office – in contrast to eleven for Barack
Obama – and tends to shun one-on-one interviews with most members of the press. He refuses to
take questions from the likes of CNN – shunning the network at a press conference in the UK for
example – and tends to stick to Fox, his favored network. By labeling some parts of the media
‘fake news’ he’s worked to discredit many mainstream outlets and has a standard defense ready
for any criticism he faces. By using Twitter, he controls his own news output, and doesn’t allow
the media to act as a gatekeeper. All of this helps to carefully control the message he gives out.

 Approach to trade

The most obvious area where Trump claims to lean on his business background is his approach
to trade.
Trump, after all, sees him as a deal-maker extraordinaire. From his book ‘The Art of the Deal’
through to his time as host of The Apprentice, he’s spent a long time creating an image as a
tough, successful businessman before he even considered going into politics. This version of the
American Dream – one that’s measured in bank balances and golden hotel towers – is another
key part of his public image but it also explains his approach to trade.

Trump wants to tear up deals that were made by his predecessor and use the sort of aggressive
business tactics he espouses to force other nations to agree to new deals. He prefers to deal with
individual leaders – because he thinks that’s his best way to ‘cut a deal’ – and seems to prefer
talks with individual nations too. This explains why he supports Brexit and dislikes the EU. If
Trump sees trade in business terms then he wants to be the bigger business, negotiating with
smaller partners over whom he has the upper hand. Tariffs and sanctions are the ways in which
he chooses to threaten others to come around to his way of thinking.
Approaching trade as a businessman, engaging in a war of words with rivals, using simple and
relentlessly positive language and hostility to the traditional media are all key traits for the
Trump Presidency. Above all, they show that the normal rules used to judge a leader don’t apply
to Trump and that his business background - or specifically his business background - is
important when it comes to trying to understand him. We might not have ever seen a political
leader like him in the past - but we’ve probably all seen business leaders like him.

It remains to be seen what results he gets from his unique approach to the office of President and
how popular this style proves with voters when he’s forced to defend his record at the polls.

So, what’s the bottom line? While Trump may have been able to accomplish short-term goals, in
the long run, leadership research suggests that this is not going to lead to long-term effectiveness.