Leadership Lessons … from Donald J. Trump

Lesson # 1: Leaders matter – especially when they are, simultaneously, exceedingly highly positioned and inordinately disruptive. Trump sucks oxygen. He has wormed his wayward ways into our political system, into our national culture, and into our collective consciousness, and we have not, so far anyway, figured out how to dislodge him.

Lesson # 2: Followers matter – especially when they are Bystanders in situations screaming for intervention. Trump’s unfitness for the American presidency has been allowed to continue courtesy of Republican Senators who, by standing by and doing nothing while the chief executive continues to mislead and mismanage, have proven crass and craven enablers.

Lesson # 3: Contexts matter – especially when emergencies arise to which they are not accustomed and for which they were not designed. The American political system has many virtues. But grounded as it is in democratic norms and in constitutional conventions that include divided government, it is neither disposed or equipped to rapidly remove even exceedingly bad leaders from high political office.

Lesson # 4: Character matters – especially in democratic systems that at this moment in time are unusually vulnerable. In the last ten years, the number of democracies has decreased; while the number of autocracies has increased.  It is of paramount importance then that democratic leaders model the values in which democrats profess to believe. These include, minimally, a commitment to the rule of law; a commitment to facts as opposed to “alternative facts”; and a commitment to national security.

Lesson # 5: Personality matters – especially as apparent in temperament. I use the word “temperament” to denote sense and sensitivity, security and stability. President Trump inadvertently reminds us that unlike bad leaders, good leaders are sensible in their approach to the issues they face; sensitive to the problems of others; secure in who they are; and stable in their response to the tasks with which they are charged.

Lesson # 6: Knowledge matters – especially in leadership posts that are highly complex. America’s chief executive is broadly in charge of managing America’s domestic policy – and America’s foreign policy. Trump’s astonishing ignorance in both domains is a reminder if we needed one that selecting a leader who is both deeply uninformed, and strikingly incurious, is a mistake the American electorate should never repeat.

Lesson # 7: Experience matters – especially in leadership posts in which the stakes are extremely high. The nature of the experience can vary. When Mike Bloomberg became mayor of New York City his work life had been in business, not government. But Bloomberg was, and still is, an exception to the rule. In coming from nothing and making his way to the top he had proved his exceptional intelligence and remarkable competence. Trump, in contrast, was his father’s creation, and a demonstrably inept one at that. The more closely we examine Trump’s preparation for the American presidency the more it falls comically, tragically, short.

Lesson # 8: Support matters – especially political support but personal support as well. During his time in the Oval Office President Trump has been largely, strikingly, alone, rather like Richard Nixon. His band of brothers and few sisters has been narrow, and most have been short-lived. The best and brightest of the professionals have by now mostly left the White House, while those who remain, such as Jared Kushner and Steven Miller, owe their longevity primarily to their fealty. Additionally, unlike most other First Ladies, there is no evidence that Melania Trump has been a pillar of either political or personal support to her husband.

Lesson # 9: Bad leaders matter – especially when they lead a group, or an organization, or a nation that is of great consequence. It matters that the president of the United States, still the so-called leader of the free world, is so inept, and so corrupt. It matters to countless numbers at home – and abroad. It matters to America’s allies, who have been warned by having Trump in the White House. It matters to America’s adversaries, who have been warmed by having Trump in the White House.

Lesson # 10: Professionalism matters – especially in contrast to a leader who is a beginner, inexperienced and uninformed. The New York Times recently called the “Trump Shutdown” a “Tragedy of Errors.” The paper pointed to, among others, the president’s failure to know how divided government works; his failure to understand the costs of playing only to his base; and his failure to grasp how members of congress might come to collaborate.  The implicit instruction? Never select, never elect, an amateur to do a professional’s job.

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