We can learn a great deal from leaders who model excellent behavior and traits we want to emulate. Other times, when we see poor behavior and traits that demonstrate ineffective leadership, we can learn from this too.
With a new President of the United States, we have an opportunity to see a different kind of leadership, and in many ways an unprecedented approach to governing. Since he has no track record in government, we will have to wait and see whether this translates into an effective new model or a calamitous failure when it comes to leading our country.
In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, author Marshall Goldsmith along with Mark Reiter detail behaviors and traits that have contributed to leaders reaching their current status, yet may be the very things holding them back from succeeding further.
“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” write the authors. In my work as a leadership coach and organizational consultant, I have found that it is not so much your intelligence or overall aptitude that inhibits growth in a leader as it is your interpersonal skills. And the further you rise in an organization, the more time and energy you will spend interacting with others.
Of the 20 behaviors detailed by Goldsmith and Reiter, I have selected the following five from which I think we can derive some insight with regard to Donald Trump. Though my comments on these particular traits and behaviors can so far only be attributed to Trump as real estate developer, Presidential candidate and President-elect, I have seen no change to suggest he will be different once he is seated in the oval office.
Five behaviors or traits that undermine strong leadership:
- Making destructive comments – Witness the disparaging remarks Trump has made towards women, Muslims, Mexicans, celebrities, the media, Presidential candidates, etc. and you can see that this pattern only serves to weaken his stature as a leader. A strong leader should not demean others in order to appeal to those he wants to lead.
- Telling the world how smart we are – Trump’s short declarative statements that rarely contain words demonstrating a broad vocabulary run counter to his contention that he is “very smart.” Demonstrating confidence is vital to leadership, yet boasting too much comes across as arrogant and/or egotistical.
- Speaking when angry – This could and should be updated to include “tweeting” to reflect Trump’s rampant use of 140 characters to vent when he feels slighted or intends to shift the focus away from more important issues. Composure is important in leadership and a measured tone is especially vital in matters of international affairs.
- Withholding information – Whether it’s refusing to release his tax returns, not detailing potential conflicts of interest, or offering no specifics on an alternative health care plan, these all demonstrate not only a lack of transparency, but the intention to deceive. Effective leadership first and foremost requires trust and holding back information weakens this.
- Refusing to express regret – Back in August 2016, the candidate finally expressed a blanket statement of regret for unspecified things he’d said. Though he had a lot of material to point to, Trump refused to specify what it is he regrets. Leadership requires the humility to admit having made mistakes, the knowledge to learn from them, and the discipline to not make them again. If you can’t acknowledge them in the first place, you are bound to repeat them.
Accepting that each of us is a work in progress and capable of life-long learning, leaders have the opportunity to continue their growth to reach their full potential. Perhaps the most important trait is the self-awareness in order to see how our behaviors may undermine our intentions. It is this self-knowledge combined with the insight of a potential disconnect with our values that can bring about the process of change.
As Goldsmith and Reiter point out in their book: “We all obey this natural law: People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”
I am hopeful that Donald Trump’s values are higher than those represented so far in his behaviors, and that he will soon recognize that the disconnect needs to be rectified in order for him to become a great leader. If not, perhaps we can learn how to become better leaders by acting counter to his example.