Is President Trump a Courageous Leader?

It’s January 31, 2017, only 11 days after Donald J. Trump took office and boy has it been a whirlwind of activity. He has already:

  • Blocked refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days and stated preference for “religious minorities.”
  • Blocked federal funding for any global health organization that provide or support abortion
  • Abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
  • Froze government hires and regulations.
  • Blocked immigrants and visa holders from Iraq, Ran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
  • Required all immigrants crossing the border to be detained .
  • Directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction on a wall.*

Whew! That’s a lot in 11 days and most of all which President Trump campaigned to do. What a novel concept; a leader who does what he says and does it with a sense of urgency! I can certainly respect that. But the question I want to pose is does that make President Trump a Courageous Leader?

Let’s start with the definition of Courageous. In my book, “The Courageous Leader” (Wiley, 2017), I define courage as what moves us to action in the face of tough times. I define tough times as situations or people that cause us some level of discomfort or pain. In other words, Courageous leaders move to action despite discomfort and pain. With this definition of Courageous leadership in mind, let’s evaluate what we are seeing with Trump’s leadership thus far.

It is certainly true that our nation is facing tough times and Trump is certainly taking steps to deal with those tough times. But is his forward movement action or reaction? An important distinction when determining a courageous leader. Reaction is based on our primitive response to discomfort or pain. It is the part of us that responses to threat, or perceived threat, and reacts. Reaction is rooted in fear and answers the question, “Do I eat it or does it eat me?” Action, on the other hand, is based on engaging the neo-cortex which is curious, open and seeks to understand before acting. A leader who moves to action does so in an informed way so that they understand the impact of their actions on those they lead. Reaction is a coping strategy. Action is Courageous.

Is Trump informed? Has he done his due diligence first to seek to understand before acting? It would be difficult to image that a President in office less than a month, who has not met with all foreign leaders relative to his decisions, who has not consulted with all parts of his administration on his goals, and who has not actually been in the job before, be informed.  Without this missing insight, how could a President truly understand the impact of their actions?

But for us to truly evaluate if Trump is Courageous we need not only consider if Trump is taking action that is fully informed but also if the threat he is responding to is a legitimate threat or if he is reacting to a perceived threat. Let’s take one of the most recent action, banning seven countries from entering the United States of America. There is, of course, evidence everywhere that ISIS is carrying out hate crimes against the world. That we know for sure. What we also know for sure is that Muslims coming into America from the countries banned killed zero Americans on American soil. Zero. This number is based on a research study conducted by the Cato Institute and lead by Alex Nowresteh, an immigration policy analyst. That means Muslims traveling from the seven identified countries are not a threat to our safety. As a matter of fact, Nowresteh’s research also points out that the chances of an American being killed by a foreigner on American soil is 1 in 3.6 million per year.  It would be easier to understand this action if the action was connected to President Trump’s stated desired outcome. In the absence of that, President Trump’s reaction is to a perceived threat, not a real threat.

This raises serious questions as to whether President Trump’s response is Courageous.

I want a safer world. I certainly want a safer home for my children here in my country. And in these times we need a Courageous Leader running our nation to keep us safe. So far, as much as I understand the intent of President Trump, his reaction does not meet my definition of Courageous. What about you?

Angela Sebaly, CEO of Personify Leadership and Author of “The Courageous Leader” (Wiley, 2017)

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