Business leadership styles are usually discussed at Mind Tools (and elsewhere) in the abstract. In light of the stark contrasts in this year’s American presidential race, I see a great opportunity to put human faces into an analysis.
There are a plethora of leadership models out there. Nuances vary but they all involve a person who charismatically expresses a clear vision of a present and/or future state. This vision attracts followers. Through interaction, the leader conveys values that are increasingly shared while trust and respect build.
Early leadership models integrated management of the organization to convert the vision into reality. Newer models, such as transformational and servant leadership, focus less on managing people. They assume that, with shared vision and values, a leader will energize followers whose passion will then self-manage the creation of the new reality. The task at hand is less important than the sharing of passion and energy (1).
So how do Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton measure up as leaders? How do their leadership styles compare? For better or worse, is there anyone more charismatic than Donald Trump? Even his opponents cannot turn their ears and eyes away from his every word and gesture. Trump’s “build a wall,” “vetting Muslim refugees,” “renegotiate NATO,” and, “people are tired of seeing politicians as all talk and no action” paint a vivid picture of what he sees as necessary to “Make America Great Again” (2).
Hillary Clinton consistently supports women, children and education, but she speaks like a policy wonk with blurry vision on trade, immigration and security. What is her vision? She doesn’t even have a slogan. The only time Hillary’s passion shows is when she’s screaming about Trump.
Trump continues to energize his event crowds but his interactions with supporters have not led to a groundswell of campaigners on his behalf. Both in business and in politics, he has very small advisory groups, the core of which is family. Those on the fringes of his business were often betrayed with his bankruptcies. As for his political leadership, twice in the last five months his campaign managers must have felt like they were on The Apprentice as he told them, “You’re fired!”
After law school, Hillary Clinton built a foundation for children and families. When husband Bill was governor of Arkansas, she led a task force that reformed education. During Bill’s presidency she drafted a healthcare plan that may have been rejected by Congress but ultimately served as the blueprint for “Obamacare” (3). Throughout her career, Hillary’s interactions have earned her great respect among the workers around her.
She may be respected by people within her circle but Hillary is struggling to earn trust from outsiders. Her association with past administrations and the lawyer-like language that she habitually uses are viewed suspiciously, with many potential supporters hesitating to put their trust in her (3).
Empathetic interaction with managers and followers is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Fixated on the task – and not the people – “[Trump] always wants his employees to get the job done as they are told, [or] he may not give them a second chance” (4). Perhaps Trump’s “It’s all about me” (5) is what prevents him from building a campaign army for the grunt work of winning an election.
For better or worse – with strengths and weaknesses – America and the world will soon learn to live with the leadership style of either Trump or Clinton.
What lessons can we learn from these drastically different leaders and their contrasting leadership styles? Start by trying to imagine Trump or Clinton being anyone other than who they are. Impossible! The lesson for us is to build our leadership styles around the personalities that we have. For whatever we’re lacking, follow Tom Rath’s advice to build a great team that has strengths where we ourselves are weak (6).
Recognize a clear truth: not everyone is born to lead. If your personality wants to avoid leadership, or your weaknesses prevent you from even trying, that’s okay. Find a leader whose values and vision you believe in and trust. Make sure that he or she, in turn, will respect and grow the contributions you will make.
(2) Donald Trump. (Various years). Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/donald_trump.html.