Lessons in Leadership from Donald Trump
March 30, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

“I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”

That was how Donald Trump characterized his model of leadership one year ago in the Republican presidential primary debate in Detroit. I criticized that remark at the time. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think the remark is due for revisiting now that we have had a chance to see the “if I say do it, they’re going to do it” principle in action.

For two weeks before the scheduled vote on the Republican healthcare bill, Donald Trump held a series of meetings and phone calls with members of Congress. I don’t have access to transcripts of those conversations, but given that the president supported the bill and wanted it to pass, I have to presume that these were conversations in which he said, “Do it.” But in the end, he had so little confidence his order would be followed that he and the House leadership withdrew the bill from consideration rather than endure the humiliation of its defeat in a chamber in which their party holds the majority. Whether or not you support the Republican healthcare program, you have to consider this event a failure of Donald Trump’s leadership model.

Effective leaders bring out the best in their people. On the healthcare issue, Donald Trump’s leadership model has brought out only petulance and obstruction. 

Think about your own experiences of being led effectively. It probably didn’t even involve following orders. When you work for an effective leader, you already know what to do, and you want to do it. From the standpoint of a follower, implementing the leader’s will is not about carrying out orders; it is about self-fulfillment. When your leader is effective, you, as the follower, feel empowered.

At Communispond, we have coached and trained thousands of leaders over the years. We have helped visionary leaders, strategic leaders, coaching leaders, situational leaders, transformative leaders, charismatic leaders, facilitative leaders, and crisis leaders. But our coaching and training has never included the “if I say do it, they’re going to do it” technique. And in nearly 50 years of this kind of coaching, we have never seen that technique applied with good results. 

Much of leadership, especially in the workplace, is based on performance coaching. The leader monitors employee performance, not to micromanage, but to catch the employee performing well, because positive reinforcement is among the most powerful tools a leader has for shaping behavior. That’s why Communispond teaches a process that organizes behavioral choices into a tactical model for effective performance coaching and provides a framework that recognizes employee performance differences. There are forces that enable and forces that block the desired follower behaviors. It is the task of the leader to uncover these forces, encourage the enabling ones, and clear away the blocking ones. To quote Donald Trump, “That’s what leadership is all about.”

In the final analysis, I have to say I believe Donald Trump has performed a public service in discrediting the “if I say do it, they’re going to do it” model of leadership so spectacularly. Here’s hoping future leadership challenges meet with success.