Trump Needs To Learn From Lincoln

Lack of self-awareness is a classic leadership Achilles' heel. The long road of failure is littered with leaders who lacked self-awareness. Whose modus operandi was to attack and deny. Whether or not you voted for Trump no longer matters. He is the president-elect and will take office soon. His actions will represent the country and its citizens, not just himself. Unquestionably, a high leadership bar.

As the nation prepares to swear in the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, my worry is that Trump's apparent lack of self-awareness is taking him down that long road and he doesn't seem to realize it. Perhaps he doesn't care. Either way, it can lead to destruction. And there doesn't appear to be anyone in his inner circle who can influence his behavior.

If not from his own advisors, perhaps Trump could learn something from Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest president of all time. In her Pulitzer Prize winner biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin identified 10 qualities that made Lincoln a great leader. There are three in particular that I think would serve Trump well: awareness of own weaknesses, the capacity to listen to different points of view, and ability to control emotions.

Lincoln's Cabinet represented the greatest minds of his time, including many political rivals. He created an environment that allowed disagreement without fear of retaliation. He listened first to understand and not to respond. He considered different points of view. He controlled his temper. Whenever he became angry with someone, he would draft a "hot letter" capturing all his fury and frustration on paper. And then he would put it in a drawer until his emotions had cooled. He would later review the letter, and if he still felt the same, he would address the situation with the individual personally and directly. Otherwise, he noted on the letter "Never sent. Never signed" and returned it to the drawer.

Maybe that's the next feature Twitter needs to introduce - a Felt button. Trump can still write his mean-spirited missives and then rather than hit Tweet, he can hit Felt, sending the tweets to a secure "Never sent. Never signed." virtual drawer. In fact, all social media platforms including email could use a Felt button!

So, if someone asked you to list the personality traits of a great leader, what would you say? More specifically, what if that leader was the president of the United States? Would your list change? Is President of the United States a position with a higher leadership bar?

While it would be near impossible to come up with the definitive shortlist, I'm sure there would be some traits on which we could all agree. Fairness, respect, and trustworthiness to name a few. I'm equally sure there would be some traits that would not show up on anyone's list. Childish, petulant, spiteful and thin-skinned immediately come to mind. Those are not words I would be looking to use when describing the commander-in-chief. But they sure showed up a lot in describing President-elect Trump's reaction to Meryl Streep's acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards recently. Party politics aside, Streep's remarks were thoughtfully constructed and respectfully delivered. Why is Trump determined to react to every comment that doesn't unabashedly praise him as if he's in a constant playground quarrel? Is he so lacking in self-awareness that he is simply unable to reflect on a dissenting view? Exercise a little objectivity? Consider his behaviors?

The warning signs are clear. Trump is a bully. He lashes out at the most trivial slight. Trump is defensive. Criticism, perceived or otherwise, is typically met with agitation or anger. Trump is grandiose. He knows more about everything than everyone. He belittles. He name calls. For someone claiming that he will "drain the swamp," he resists being held accountable for his behaviors, his failures. Attack and deny. This kind of behavior is that of an ornery toddler or a querulous teenager. Take your pick. Neither is a good choice.

Only Trump can heed these warning signs and change the course of his presidency. Only Trump can be the president we would all like to see - a leader who is fair, respectful, trustworthy, and self-aware. One who is tolerant. One who effectively represents the national ethos of the United States and its ideals. A president, no matter what your political persuasion, of whom all can be proud. Because the alternative is very, very bad.