Campaigns are well under way for the early stages of the 2016 US Presidential elections. At the time of writing, both of the main parties are seeking a new leader. And on the Republican side, it is Donald Trump who is currently ahead in the polls.
There are some great lessons for all the would-be Presidents currently competing for their party's nomination but, with Trump, the case study is larger and sharper. Love him or hate him, there is one thing he is consistently known for: his authenticity. Based on the strength of his conviction, he has gone further in this campaign than anyone could have imagined.
His authentic approach is considered to be both motivating and energising by some, as people watch a leader who, for better or for worse, says what he actually thinks. However, on its own, this authenticity is not enough to lead the most powerful country in the world – not nearly. Particularly as his views, and the way he expresses them, are polarising to those who hear them.
Authentic anger does not win over the populace. And Trump is hardly gaining respect as a result of the way he treats his enemies – of which there are many. He has already built up an embarrassingly long list of offences, including ridiculing the war record of famous veteran John McCain, picking a fight with Fox News’ influential journalist Megyn Kelly, and having a range of sexist, racist and otherwise offensive comments attributed to him.
While leaders should not be held back by fears of what other people think, a leader does have to behave responsibly while considering the impact of their views and approaches. That’s why our clients often rely on our ‘I, We and Winning’ leadership model, with the understanding that all three components are critical for success.
Trump clearly has the ‘I’ aspect covered in that he understands the essence of his leadership beliefs and values, and what’s in it for him. However, what’s missing in Trump’s campaign is the ‘We’, or his ability to communicate and engage with a wider group of people on these beliefs and values – in other words, understanding what’s in it for them. In US election party campaigning, this means trying to engage with voters who are NOT your natural supporters, winning them over by empathising and listening. Without this understanding, ‘Winning’ is virtually impossible. Indeed, for all leaders, the ability to engage those who are not naturally in their camp is essential.
Because of this, although Trump MAY win the Republican Party nomination, it will be much harder to win over those many electors in the ‘centre’ of the political spectrum who decide who will be the next President. Recent examples of party leaders who brilliantly bridged the political divide and ‘spoke’ to those beyond their natural supporters include Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom had highly developed engagement behaviours which they put to great use, regardless of whether they were speaking to ‘friend’ or ‘foe’.
Clips of Clinton's TV debate with George Bush Senior show the marked contrast between the two in this area: Bush is cold, reserved, stiff and detached, whereas Clinton is human, warm, attentive and empathetic. Now this difference in itself didn't make Clinton a better politician or leader than Bush, but it did imply that he was more connected to everyday issues and was prepared to listen to others’ points of view. This ability to engage and connect occurred in informal, unguarded moments as well as the more formal ones. At all times, Clinton was authentic as well as engaged and engaging. A winning combination.
And that’s why Trump may never be President. While he proposes to "Make America Great Again", and brings to the campaign an intriguing swagger, his inability to see the ‘We’ could ultimately lead to his very expensive downfall.