We at The Policy Geek think it's high time we had a discussion about Leadership, what makes a good leader, and what we should be looking for in a POTUS moving forward. To that end, we share with you here a piece written by our good friend Dr. Bear as originally posted on Mad Mike's America...
By Dr. Mark Bear
Sadly, leadership is often misconstrued as the art of persuading others to do one’s will. Looking at several disastrous examples throughout the course of history, it's rather clear that just because one can convince those around him to do his bidding with undying loyalty doesn't automatically designate that person as being a “good leader." Therefore, being able to motivate blind followers should not be the sole litmus test as to whether one is, or is not, good leader material.
Some examples of poor leadership include Richard Nixon, Jim Jones, Adolph Hitler, and a host of other characters littering the leadership literature, and yet it can very well be argued that these men did in fact, successfully and en masse persuade others to do their bidding.
So what does constitute good leadership, and more importantly, how would our current President, Donald Trump, fare if evaluated with the standard descriptors found in mainstream social psychological literature? More importantly, what are the attributes of good leadership?
Here's what we've found. Positive leadership role models include the following: modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the hearts of those around him or her.
Let’s do a brief review of these factors through the frame of Trump. Exemplary leaders stand for something, believe in something, and care about something. They pursue their vision with determination and elegance. They then can easily be held up as role models for all to follow. Well, we already know that in many ways, from imitating a handicapped person at a rally, to inciting violence, to being caught talking about attempting to assault married women, that this man is no role model.
Good leaders inspire a shared vision. They find their voice by clarifying their personal values, expressing those values in their own unique and authentic style, and drawing like minds close. We need to stop right here if we even care to provide an objective assessment of Trump, because at first glance one might be persuaded to believe that Trump does, in fact, “express his values in his own unique style.” Style he has in spades. However, the good leader – or the person one would want to follow – first finds his or her voice – and it is this voice which serves as the catalyst for the leader’s vision. The problem with Trump here is apparent. He has embraced nearly every single side of every single position politically. By having no firm footing in any particular ideology, other than nationalism, Trump makes it quite difficult for those around him, let alone members of his own party, to follow him.
Moreover, while articulating his stances on the issues, he has behaved in such an unprofessional manner at levels of contempt for civil process which are unprecedented. Despite his missteps, Trump daily accuses everyone around him of being questionable, while evidence consistently and clearly points to he himself as being the problem. Most of his staff has to play clean up throughout each day, continuously needing to explain his new positions and absurd statements, so progress toward any particular goal is often sidelined while his advisers are consumed instead with the business of putting out constant fires.
This is not what experts in my field – including myself – consider good leadership. Trump very well may be able to persuade people at a rally, however translating that speech into political governance is quite another thing, as we all are witnessing with the current GOP “Repeal and Replace ‘Obamacare'” effort.
Eloquent speeches about admirable beliefs – not being part of the “establishment” – aren’t nearly enough. Being an "outsider" does not a productive civil servant make. Words and deeds must be consistent for leaders to have integrity. Leaders wishing to be effective must set the example by aligning their personal actions with shared values. To date, Trump has told his base that he would “drain the swamp,” only to turn around and state at one of his celebration rallies how that statement was now "hokey to him.” And instead of following words with deeds he instead provides evidence to any casual observer that he's filling the swamp instead of draining it by surrounding himself exclusively with so many billionaires in his cabinet positions.
There is no freeway to the future, folks. No paved highway from here to tomorrow. There is only wilderness! Only uncertain terrain. There are no road maps, and no signposts. Pioneering leaders – those that are considered the greatest in our social psychological literature – rely on a compass and a dream. They dream of what “might” be, and they passionately believe they can make a positive difference. But here is where things go awry again with Trump and if we are not careful, we might find ourselves believing him to actually possess this attribute. But does he?
Visions seen only by the leader are insufficient to mobilize and energize. One may argue that Trump was quite able to mobilize, as evidenced by the turnout for the previous election cycle, but Russian interference notwithstanding, this standard still misses the mark. Leaders enlist others by appealing to their shared aspirations. Publicly he's promised jobs, to bring back coal, and that he'd make Mexico pay for a wall. In reality, Trump's aspirations mostly involve tearing families apart, removing health care coverage from millions and millions of people, gutting social safety nets, and destroying the established governmental departments that run our country.
Currently, Trump is reaching out only to those within his base, and is neglecting to appeal to the entire electorate - that is those within the ranks of the Democratic and Independent groups of our electorate. If he is to experience any level of success – long term – he will need to go beyond his mere rhetoric offered on the night of the election, and actually try to meet people in the middle. If he doesn’t, he will be a failed leader.
On the average, the work of leaders is to accomplish change. That's how their success is measured. To them the status quo is unacceptable. Leaders search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, not seek out ways to tear the entire system down. He's not trying to rebuild our system at all, but rather it seems to be his goal to simply destroy it. In fact, Steve Bannon, the very man who has Trump’s ear the most, is on record as stating how he wants to tear down the entire system.
Good leaders seize the initiative to make things happen, realizing they have no monopoly on good ideas, and they constantly scan the environment seeking other people – regardless of party affiliation – to assist in creating ways to do new things. They research all the options. They listen, they learn, they grow. This takes time. It takes measured resolve to make educated choices. It takes input from every direction so every base is covered.
In other words, one cannot get from here to tomorrow in one giant leap. Extraordinary things get done one step at a time. The greatest leaders in our history have experimented and taken risks by constantly generating small wins and by learning from mistakes. And, despite persistent opposition – which is certain to come – and inevitable setbacks (which need to be admitted to versus denying they occur), leaders demonstrate the courage to continue the quest.
Let me be clear here folks: Trump very well may take risks, however those risks seem to be irresponsible and self-defeating. Sending your staff out to argue how the former President spied on you is nothing more than petty, and worse, when most folks realize it to be untrue, you as a leader risk losing all credibility. In fact, already, the world has decided his office holds no veritas, generates no truths that can be relied on. This is not something Trump should be surprised about because he began losing credibility when he entered the race, by seizing on the lie that our former President was not born in the United States, going so far as to tell an interviewer that, and I’m paraphrasing “I have people in Hawaii right now and they are finding things which are not all that good.” Of course, none of that every happened.
Finally, when a leader suffers a setback he or she doesn’t go out of his way to exact retribution upon the dissident. Threatening to “keep a list of those who wronged you,” or worse, calling those who did not support you the “opposition party” or "the enemy," are unproductive ways to bridge the gap. It's a funny way to govern when you actively seek out a constant enemy within, when you begin by fighting against more than half of your electorate, when you call our cherished fourth estate "the enemy of the people."
Leaders also know they cannot do the task alone. It takes partners to get extraordinary things accomplished in organizations and that challenge is even greater in government when having to deal with various factions with specific ideologies. In other words, it takes compromise. So, leaders foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. They develop teams with spirit and cohesion, being careful not to select each person with the mentality it be essential they all agree with you, for doing so endangers one’s leadership terribly. Unfortunately, in Trump world, there are only yes men and sycophants. And where there is an independent voice to be heard, it is immediately asked to resign.
Trump has violated the public’s ability to trust him, and now he has violated any modicum of trust which may have existed between his most important ally; the current Speaker of the House.
Lest you missed the news, Breitbart – the very online publication where Trump's Bannon comes from – published a story yesterday trying to portray the Speaker in the worst terms because Ryan had told his caucus (the day after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced in our media) that he would "never support Trump.” Now, Trump is using that statement made several months ago against the Speaker, this at a time when Trump NEEDS the Speaker more than ever to get his health care bill passed. But this President has a pension for revenge, and that need overrules common sense or big picture vision.
Good leaders promote positive reciprocity between all players, something Trump is unable to do, as reports of infighting and backstabbing leak daily. As the sands shift under Trump, he really could care less. Despite the obvious fact that good leaders cannot do the task alone, Trump told the entire Nation he “alone was the person who could fix the nation.” Given his lack of research and his shooting from the hip style of command, we're in for a long bumpy ride. Not only does he seem to have trouble getting his team to work together, he actually seems to enjoy watching them fight each other - like this is all one big episode of The Apprentice to him. With the White House playing out Oval Office politics like a story line from The Survivor, who knows who will have his ear even this time next month.
On every winning team, members need to share in the rewards of their efforts. So good leaders celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community. That means expressing pride in the accomplishments of the leader’s team, but when governing in the position Trump holds, it means he acknowledges EVERY person, every citizen’s accomplishment, regardless of their political support or affiliation. It is this obstacle which persists in plaguing Trump as President and prevents him from being effective and good as a leader. If you aren't a Trump supporter, and don't sing his praises, you're out, and a target for his scorn.
So how does Trump stack up? You can make the decision for yourself. However, when doing so perhaps we all should compare Trump to our previous President. Ask yourselves a question: How many of these attributes did our former President possess? Did he serve as a role model? Did he walk the talk? Did he inspire us with a shared vision of HOPE? Did he challenge the process, promote transparency, and generate new ways of incorporating input like creating the petition page on the whitehouse.gov website? Did he enable others to act, provide roadmaps for change? Did he and our former first lady encourage the hearts of those around him or her?
As I have made clear throughout all of my writing, our former President was not perfect, but at least he had the character essential to bring the country together. At least his style and process was role model worthy. Just because there was a group of people in this nation who decided to believe lies and myths about the former President in no way mitigates his basic leadership style which very well can be argued met the above criteria, and in many cases far exceeded that criteria.
In closing, my personal and professional evaluation of Trump as a leader of the free world, utilizing the objective criteria outlined above, tells me he is more of a slick salesman – able to motivate large groups of people to HIS vision – versus being a “good leader” who embraces a shared vision of ALL citizens in this nation. Leading often requires supporting the populace in accomplishing their goals, not forcing the populace to assist in accomplishing your own goals.
Unless he alters his course radically, something I do not see occurring, I do not remain hopeful. Anyone, anyone at all, if trained to be successful can be a salesman, but it is quite another to be a “good leader.” Being a dictator is easy. Leadership skills take years of incubation coupled with layers of a complex and ever learning character; both criteria which he seems to lack. I hope for our Nation that Donald J. Trump will be the exception to the rule, that bumbling into the office will somehow prove to be a growth opportunity for Donald, but fifty days into his Administration is showing otherwise.
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Source: Kouzes J.M & Posner, (2004). The leadership challenge. Josey Bass, SF, CA.