And it’s a wrap. The two major conventions are over and we now begin the long slog toward Election Day in November. As someone who studies both communication and leadership styles here at MIT, I think it is worth pausing and sifting through the sometimes overly loud and outsized rhetoric of the past two weeks to create a kind of scorecard.
The presidency is a job after all, an amazing and powerful one, but a job all the same. So, it seems like a good idea to dispassionately assess the leadership and communication skills of the two candidates—not unlike what we would do if this were a job opening in a major corporation.
Donald Trump has shown his ability to manipulate the media and his facility with social media. He keeps his name in the headlines day in and day out, most recently inviting Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hack Hilary Clinton’s e-mails. He also seems to have the facility to vacillate on positions without getting into a lot of trouble for doing that. While many would accuse Trump of flip-flopping, one could suggest that he has developed this as an art or a skill. He’s done a good job of positioning himself as an outsider at a time when people have a great deal of anger towards Washington.
At the same time, there are some negative characteristics to his campaign. He’s made statements about women and immigrants that play to people’s fears and anxieties. The danger of this form of leadership is that he is building support through emotional manipulation as opposed to building support for his ideas or policies. Trump is spontaneous and unpredictable and that unpredictability could certainly be a risk as well as an asset.
One of the interesting and big contrasts, I would suggest, is the candidate’s ability to listen. We’ve seen a lot of examples where Trump has trouble listening without interrupting. He likes to be the star.
By contrast, one of Clinton’s strengths is her ability to listen well. Various speakers have made a point to express how Clinton listened to them including mothers from the Black Lives Matter movement and a young girl who expressed concerns that her parents would be deported.
She is a deep thinker and appreciates insight from others as well. Clinton has displayed a very solid personal strength. She is a strong person—even in light of various challenges, she perseveres. She demonstrates that skill of building relationships and building coalitions. Democratic and Republican colleagues during her time as a United States Senator describe her as an extremely hard worker who reached across the aisle. She seems to do a good job of articulating the principles of the Democratic Party, but on the flip side of that, she could do more to articulate her personal vision and allow people to know her a bit more – the Democratic National Convention helped this cause through various speakers and from Hilary’s own appearance on the final night. The area that is the challenge for her is trustworthiness. She obviously is going to have to spend some time thinking about how do you build that trustworthy factor. Here again the Convention got this process underway.
I am hopeful that as we move towards the General Election, voters will have the time to step back and consider the various leadership and communications skills of the candidates in a more dispassionate and objective way. It is time to consider which candidate offers the empathy, experience, trust, and respect critical to the United States and to how we are viewed around the world. Voters would do well to assume the position of hiring director and assess clearly which of the candidates will do the best job of moving the country forward.
Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.