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Four Leadership Development Lessons from Donald Trump (Seriously)

The rise of Donald Trump as a viable political candidate has generated a great deal of news (my first massive understatement).

If you type Donald Trump in the Google search bar it will report 170,000,000 search results. When I was preparing this post I did a search for “Leadership lessons from Donald Trump” and got 413,000 search results.

Donald Trump is a lot of things to a lot of people (my second massive understatement) but his surge in the Republican presidential nomination polls does speak to several leadership development lessons that are worth noting.

Donald Trump, despite all of his recognized flaws and contradictions, is connecting with people who see him as their best choice for President for some unconventional reasons that normally do not make the decision set for a presidential selection. His actions so far have defied the conventional political campaign wisdom (my third and final massive understatement)

I believe that there are four leadership development lessons to be learned from his political campaign. I want to only focus on the positives that I see from his current success. It is well known that there are counter arguments on why Donald Trump does not have these leadership characteristics. I would like to walk away from those in this discussion because the positives that he is displaying should be worth noting for potential leaders and for leadership development programs.

Authenticity and being genuine is powerful

Donald Trump comes off as genuine, authentic, unrehearsed and as a real representation of who he really is. When you hear him deliver an opinion you recognize that the opinions are his – not something from a team of consultants or polls. This gives him an authenticity that people connect to. It also allows him to make the occasional (or maybe not so occasional) mistake because he is not held to expectations of the professional political class that is seen a formally polished and rehearsed.

Mary Civiello wrote recently in the Fortune magazine article “What Donald Trump's Outbursts Say About Leadership” the following about his perceived authenticity.

“One of the reasons for Donald Trump’s rise in the polls is that he appears authentic. Whether or not voters like what he says, many like that he seems real … unscripted, unlike so many politicians.

People are looking for authenticity in corporate leaders as well. Young people, especially, who meld personal and professional lives online, want to know the boss beyond the workplace.”

Self-confidence and perceived strength attracts others to follow

Donald Trump exudes confidence. He comes across to others as firmly believing that what he says will provide the solution to "Make America Great Again". This self-confidence attracts others who will put their trust in a leader who they see having the determination and will to make the vision real.

Leadership development has long been drawn to helping others in this area. As Will Marre wrote in his recent excellent blog post  “Leadership Lessons from Donald Trump”

“Harvard researchers John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut explain in their book Compelling People that human beings are wired to follow people who are both strong and warm. Strength is primarily communicated through confidence.  Warmth is demonstrated through empathy. It’s pretty simple. If you believe a leader understands your personal hopes and fears, is rock-solid confident, and that they can defend you from your fears and help you realize your hopes they will gain your support.

The world is a very confusing and scary place.  The forces of violence and our economic well-being seem out of control.  So when someone shows up brimming with insane levels of confidence (strength), and who promises to defend you against your greatest fears (empathy-warmth) they will get your attention.”

Turning complexity into simpler messaging connects with people

Another strength that Donald Trump shows is how he can take complex issues and distill them down to simple messages that people can connect to. Before dismissing this consider that this skill has been shown in many great leaders and is what differentiates leaders from managers.

Rather than get into lengthy policy heavy discussions you will see Donald Trump distill the discussion down to core elements that the average potential voter can understand (and agree or disagree).

Will Marre is his blog Leadership Lessons from Donald Trump also wrote:

“One other thing, we like things simple. 

We hate to hear that things are complicated.  We want to depend on people who seem clear and committed and communicate simple solutions.  Believe it or not, Donald Trump scores very high with a select group of voters who share common fears, want simple solutions (like build a fence), and allow them to be caught in the tractor beam of his confidence.

Trump’s leadership persona is so powerful that his supporters don’t care that he self-obsessed because they believe that his interests in their interests overlap.”

Marketing helps – do not forget the sizzle with the steak

The reason why the news coverage is so heavily slanted towards Trump is that people find what he is saying as interesting. No doubt, regardless of your political persuasion, you will recognize Trump as a master showman. Long before he took interests in politics he was building Trump as a brand

Shaun Rein in a 2009 Forbes article “Genuine Business Lessons from Donald Trump said this:

"He has mastered the art of defining the core values of his brand and leveraging his brand equity to appeal to a wide customer base. In a time when consumers are seeking to stretch their shopping dollars further than ever before by buying brands they trust and know are of good value, companies absolutely need to define themselves and differentiate themselves. The winners will be those who carve out and cultivate their brand positions. They can take many cues from Trump."

"Trump has been so successful in large part because he has managed to build a lifestyle brand around the luxurious and successful life that he lives and most people aspire to. He works hard to cultivate the image, and he uses it to expand into new business lines and find new areas for profit. From his real estate developments to his casinos and books, his new ventures are selected to dovetail with his core image."

There are leadership development lessons one can learn from Donald Trump. Executive coaches in their client sessions should take note that he displays several attributes of strong leadership.