The ups and downs of Trump’s management style

The waves of hype he is causing must crash eventually on the rocks of reality

Donald Trump:  his way of working will be very different to the 43 presidents who have held this role before him. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Donald Trump: his way of working will be very different to the 43 presidents who have held this role before him. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

 

The inauguration of Donald Trump, his initial speeches and his first executive actions sets the tone for a remarkable period in political leadership. He is the first incumbent of that powerful position who has had no former political or military leadership experience. He unquestionably brings a fresh approach, a robust set of experiences that will be applied to some massive challenges and opportunities throughout his presidency. The idea of injecting a business and entrepreneurial leadership style into the political arena sounds good. However, President Trump’s particular style of leadership, as a belligerent deal-making property developer and a brash media industry executive and performer, along with his unorthodox set of personal values, may result in a somewhat unpredictable next four years.

Many leadership skills and approaches can validly transfer between business and politics. Many aspects of leadership education and experience can be very relevant in such dramatically different working environments. Too often such professional leadership expertise and education is lacking in the backgrounds of individuals who are tasked with huge political leadership roles. The idea of a business leader accepting a challenge to apply his skills to the task of running his country, taking on the most powerful political role on the planet is, in theory, a good one.

Conflicts

But Trump is not like other business leaders. He brings with him a unique set of business experiences. His way of working will be very different to the 43 presidents who have held this role before him. It is likely he will run the country in a management style that has worked for him in his business dealings, with a focus on negotiating deals and regular legal conflicts.

On the positive side, he will definitely get stuff done and will be seen to make progress with renewed pace and energy. Throughout the election he successfully set out a clear and simple vision of aiming to “Make America great again” and has touched on a real desire for change among enough American voters in key states. While the substance of his message is often easy to ridicule, he has shown a remarkable ability to engage the population with his communication skills. His energy and passion, if directed towards some worthy causes and issues, could indeed make America great. Unfortunately there is limited evidence that he will take on the right battles.

Trump’s top-down management approach with his pacesetting and coercive style (seeming to say “Do this, do it my way and do it now or you’re fired”) worked well for him in many of his business transactional endeavours, but may not inspire and is likely to wear thin. His bluster and bullying will deliver some results, but it’s questionable if it can be sustainable. The lack of substance behind his tweets is sometimes shocking; many statements seem to have no regard for the confirmed facts. There is a real risk that he will fail to meet the expectations of his supporters by pursuing undeliverable goals; old-fashioned manufacturing practices will not somehow magically compete with modern automation. The waves of hype must crash eventually on the rocks of reality.

Sensitivity to criticism

His apparent thin-skinned sensitivity to criticism, his tremendous need for approval and applause, are not attractive characteristics as a leader. Even his most strident supporters seem to accept that his most extreme outrageously vulgar language, his encouragement of negative energy and his abusive engagement with some weaker parts of society are inappropriate for an American president.

Few businesses today are run in this style; society (both here and in the US) is less inclined to blindly accept instruction from any authority. We now expect organisations to be socially responsible, concerned about the environment, paying a fair wage to employees. We reject products that have been produced by cheap child labour, we think twice about investing in businesses that damage the environment. Business is now expected to implement “respect and dignity” policies; employees will, rightly, not accept inappropriate behaviours from their colleagues and bosses. In the world of Trump, all these common standards of successful businesses seem to be very foreign concepts.

A business leadership approach that is genuinely based on common decency, with deeply held beliefs and a strong set of values seems to fit better with the needs of politics and public service. It would be a shame if it were assumed that all business leaders apply a Trump standard to their decision-making. Business can, and should, make a better contribution than that.

“How” matters; it’s not just about achieving end results. There are many fundamental questions about both Trump’s stated goals and, more importantly, how he intends to achieve those goals. Driving hard to achieve results with no understanding of the consequences of his actions is not necessarily a good approach, in business or in politics.

Michael Carey is managing director of East Coast Bakehouse.

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