The valuable lesson of Trump

Many have criticized Donald Trump’s actions in recent months, yet he still received more votes than any losing presidential candidate in American history. Many clearly think he is a great leader.

Perhaps Trump is the Vince Lombardi of presidents. The legendary football coach is known for having said: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” He was exceptionally tough on his players and he won a lot of football games.

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Many idolize Lombardi and his approach to sports and life. Be uncompromising. Win, whatever it takes.

What many don’t know is that near the end of his life, Lombardi expressed regret for what he said. He explained: “I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure didn’t mean for people to crush human values and morality.”

I too remember being confused about what real leadership is. Through my years of teaching, however, I learned that the key to a productive classroom is treating people with respect, not instilling fear in them.

Maybe the reason why we have so many terrible leaders in politics, in business and even in our families is because we don’t know what good leadership looks like. What may be even more dangerous is that we have no idea how to identify a terrible leader.

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, tells us that first and foremost, a good leader has a solid moral character and a sense of integrity. A leader takes a proactive approach to life. Covey states: “Highly proactive people don’t blame circumstances or conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice.”

Leaders are responsible. They respect themselves and others, they listen, they celebrate differences of opinion and they understand that winning means creating circumstances where everyone benefits.

Poor leaders may obtain short-term goals, but they leave a path of destruction in their wake.  

This has been a major problem in the world. In an effort to create political and economic stability in developing countries, powerful nations have put in place dictators with no moral character, men who would steal and murder in order to maintain control. Are we really surprised when, as Malcolm X said: “The chickens come home to roost”?

The vast majority of people live principled lives and want their leaders to do the same. The problem is that some people (perhaps even six per cent of the population) are selfish, manipulative and lack empathy.  They can put on a good show for a while, but they will always expose their true colours, eventually.

What is interesting about the case of Donald Trump is that many mental health professionals predicted he would come unhinged if his leadership was challenged. They have been studying his behaviour for years and noted that his actions are consistent with those of a person who is extremely egocentric, lacks empathy, cannot accept criticism, and has to be in control. When things do not go well for these people, they lash out at others and throw temper tantrums. They may be good authoritarians, but authoritarianism is not leadership.

It is therefore important to understand not only the characteristics of a high-conflict personality; we need to understand the manipulative tactics they use when they are trying to get what they want. We also need to have structures in place to hold them accountable and remove them from their positions when necessary.

Manipulators take advantage of our normal human tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt and to forgive. They also almost never change.  

Donald Trump provided the world with an amazing case study. Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson.

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