Can Trump Actually Lead America?

Group of People Asking Questions
Group of People Asking Questions

In recent history, no celebrity who has come close to amassing as much media coverage as Donald Trump. The amount of media attention "The Donald" has generated for his presidential campaign borders on hysteria. His ascension as the GOP front-runner would not have been remotely possible if not for his masterful media savvy.

There's a huge difference between being a famous celebrity and being a great leader. As comprehensive as the coverage surrounding Trump has been, it is striking how little attention has been given to one key question: Can Donald Trump actually lead America?

For the last 25 years, I have worked with thousands of leaders of all sorts. I am not an academician remotely studying leaders from afar. Rather, I am more like a leadership anthropologist who lives among leaders as they struggle with the challenges of getting results through the efforts of those they are charged with leading. By working directly with leaders, I've learned firsthand what separates leaders from non-leaders.

This is my take on whether Donald Trump is likely to be a good leader were he to win the presidency. To start, let's note some of the more prominent leadership attributes people are willing to follow.

Authenticity: Human beings have highly-equipped crap detectors. We can sense when there's a gap between who a leader tells us he/she is and who he/she actually is. People don't like a phony. As long as a person is "real" like us, we are willing to overlook other differences between us and the leader like wealth, education, and pedigree.

Passion and Reason: People follow leaders who care deeply about results, about progress, and about us. We want leaders who fight hard on our behalf. We know leaders truly care when they display fiery passion. But we also want to know that we can get through to our leaders when their passion clouds their judgment. Reason gives passion focus.

Inclusiveness: Presidential leadership, especially, necessitates a big tent. Presidents must lead the entire country, not a narrow constituency. Presidents don't have the luxury to be party fundamentalists because their impact includes those outside their party.

Vision: People want to know where a leader is taking them, and they will only follow a leader if he or she is taking them to a better place. Getting followers to move toward a better future-and away from the comfort of the status quo- requires a clear vision from the leader.

Selflessness: Followers are most loyal to leaders who put the interests and dreams of followers before their own. We are attracted to leaders who spend more time thinking about us then themselves.

Goodness: Leaders are people of high integrity. They have a moral code, and the do their level best to live up to it.

Now let's try to gauge how likely it is that Donald Trump can actually lead America by seeing how he stacks up against the list of what attracts followers to leaders.

In terms of authenticity, Trump stacks up well. His blunt audacity is a turnoff to some, but is viewed as refreshing to others. He says things publically that many people say behind closed doors. People may resent the things he says, but he should get credit for having the guts to say what he thinks and feels.

When it comes to passion, Trump also stacks up well. He's anything but indifferent when it comes to issues he cares about. That said, Trump sometimes seems short on reason. People that question his ideas or facts are quickly met with ridicule and anger. It is this mixture of high passion and low reasonability that have caused some journalists to describe Trump as a bully.

Inclusiveness can be tricky for a presidential candidate. In the primaries you have to play to your base. But if you become the nominee, you have to move more toward the middle to capture voters from the other party. In Trump's case, he has spent so much energy alienating entire populations of people - most prominently Muslims and Mexicans - that it is hard to fathom him moving toward the middle.

Ronald Reagan, leveraging Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, famously described America as a "shining city on a hill." John F. Kennedy implored each of us to "ask what you can do for your country." They each set forth an optimistic vision for our country. Unlike Reagan and Kennedy, Trump hasn't clarified his vision of a hopeful future. While he has mentioned building a large wall to keep people out, he hasn't told us about a better country he'd like us to help build.

Selflessness, and by extension humility, seem hopelessly void in Mr. Trump. Great leaders, like great coaches, give all the credit to the people they're privileged to lead. They help us recognize our own greatness. Trump spends a lot of time telling us how great he is.

All of that brings us to goodness. The question becomes, Is Donald Trump a good man? While integrity is only one facet of goodness, it's an important one. It isn't clear what moral code Mr. Trump lives by. He doesn't share much about his faith or spiritual sensibilities. His philanthropic work seems to be limited to having other celebrities raise money for worthy causes on The Apprentice. The amount of his own money that goes to charitable causes is a bit of a mystery.

Presidential leadership requires leading for the entire country, not just its frothy outer edges. Without a broad number of committed followers, a leader can't get things done. He resides too far from the stable middle to build a broad base of loyal followers, and based on the attributes that attract followers to leaders, it's unlikely that Trump would be a very effective president.

Bill Treasurer
is the author of Leaders Open Doors, which focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. Bill has worked with thousands of leaders from such prominent organizations as NASA, Accenture, CNN, Walsh Construction, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, SunTrust Bank, the Children's Miracle Network, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. A native New Yorker, Bill now lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. To inquire about having Bill work with your leaders, contact