What Trump Can Teach Us About Leadership

During this time of transition, much can be learned about leadership effectiveness regardless of the color of your state, the side of the aisle you identify with or your brand of politics. If we can set aside these ideologies and look simply at the practice of leadership, there is much to be learned about what to do and what not to do from our President-Elect.

Right now, we are facing an unprecedented act of cyber war from the Russians, confirmed by our intelligence community, with the intent to undermine our great democracy. Like many threats facing our nation, there is controversy about what comes next and how to handle the information provided in the briefing. But ultimately, the power resides with President Elect-Trump. How he handles this situation begins to shape how “we the people” and the world around us view his leadership.

As leaders, there are two paths available to us: one that is self-seeking, and one that is about seeking a bigger purpose. Our choice of path is driven by who we are. It is not a question with answers we can fake; the answers come from the way we live our life. I discuss this in my new book, The Courageous Leader.

The first path is the path of least resistance and is well-worn. Travelers on this path seek to serve their own needs and their own purpose. The self-seeking path fills a void for the ego and is rooted in fear. I once worked with a team whose exceptional turn-around leader eventually became caught up in trying to build his own visibility and position within the organization instead of leading his business. Over time this impacted results, and he was let go. This is a common outcome for self-seekers; success at the beginning met with a fateful lasting failure.

The second path is one of seeking a bigger purpose. Some leaders are lucky and are born with a disposition for the second path, but for most of us this path is harder to find and takes work to cultivate. Usually we stumble upon it after many humbling experiences. Travelers on this path seek to serve the needs of something bigger than themselves. The bigger purpose seeker serves to create opportunity and possibility, and unlike the self-seeker fixated on winning or demolishing the competition, the bigger purpose leader sheds herself of the need to compare themselves to anyone at any time.

Both self-seekers and bigger-purpose seekers are capable of moving people from one destination to another. The difference is their intention in doing so. The intent of the bigger purpose leader is to reach a goal that serves others. They believe they have a gift that is intended to bring themselves and others preservation, growth, promotion and harmony. The intent of the self-seeker is to obtain these same things for herself, but at the cost of others, if necessary.

From my vantage point, it appears Trump may be able to teach us about confidence. He may be able to teach us about making deals. Even further, he may even be able to teach us a little about bucking the status-quo. But he will not teach us about being a bigger purpose seeker. Trump chooses to put his interest above the best interest of our country. For example, his desire to appear the confident winner of the election without intervention of the Russian government hijacked his sensibility and reasoning. After many briefings from the NSA, FBI and CIA he continued to deflect their findings for a prolonged period of time for what appears to be the purpose of saving face. Even though in his first press conference he reversed course, saying that Russia was indeed responsible for pre-election hacking, this turnabout itself demonstrates his concern with saving face. Trump has a long record of arrogant and emotional retorts to anyone who challenges his way of thinking, most recently taking to twitter to smear Meryl Streep after she tried to smear him. Unfortunately, he does not like criticism and instead when he receives it he will attack, even his own people. But he loves praise and when offered up from Putin, whose interest are not aligned with the U.S., Trump chooses to receive personal praise even if it’s not in the best interest of the country.

There are others who feel Trump’s rejection of national security intelligence, his brash rhetoric and his desire to disrupt government protocol are a good thing. And if this approach produces more accountability in government then this in fact would be a good thing. However, the question remains: is Trump’s overall intention in doing so self-seeking? And more importantly for the American people: will it matter? Like no other time in history, this is an opportunity to test our perspective on leadership. Is it acceptable to be a self-seeker? Or does our world need a bigger purpose seeker, someone who seeks to do what’s best for the people he serves regardless of the personal impact or ramifications it might have for him personally?

Let us watch and see…

Angela Sebaly, CEO of Personify Leadership and Author of “The Courageous Leader: How to Face Any Challenge and Lead Your Team to Success (Wiley March, 2017)”

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