Viewpoint: Five Imperatives for Trump to Improve His Leadership Effectiveness

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on October 3, 2017

President Donald Trump continues to face criticism of his leadership style and values from many Americans.

Some pundits have argued that a CEO cannot be an effective president. I don’t agree. Let’s not broad-brush an entire profession because of the performance of one individual.

On Aug. 1, Lucy Marcus wrote an article in Market Watch headlined, “If Trump were America’s CEO, he would be gone by now.

Marcus wrote, “Trump fancies himself America’s CEO; indeed, he won the presidency partly because he pitched himself as a successful business tycoon…. If any CEO walked into a meeting as ill-informed and poorly briefed as Trump often is, breezily spouting empty superlatives and faulty information, they would have quickly lost respect outside the company and support within it.”

I agree with Marcus’s assessment. Trump as president would not last as a CEO reporting to an independent board of directors.

Trump has earned low marks in five imperatives that are critical for his (and anyone’s) success as a leader:

1. Build a strong and effective team

The White House team that Trump has built has been adversely impacted by frequent firings and resignations, as well as the hiring of people – his daughter and son-in-law, to name two – who have no political or diplomatic experience. This undermines trust among the staff, and without trust, little gets accomplished.

Trump has not been consistent in his positions and has not been factual on many issues, two traits valued by all effective leaders. This makes it difficult for White House staffers to do their jobs, since consistency, personal credibility and being factual are the underpinnings of the success of any team.

There are reports that many staffers have their résumés out, looking to leave the White House before normal practice of completing a full year in their positions. This is not a good sign.

2. Do what’s right for your “customers”

In the president’s case, this means the American people.

A cornerstone of Trump’s legislative agenda is to repeal Obamacare. He should not do it in a way that hurts millions of Americans.

A handful of courageous Republicans have put people before party and refused to support legislation that would make health insurance unaffordable for up to 30 million Americans and weaken protections for those with pre-existing conditions. This proposed Republican legislation was supported by Trump, in violation of his promise to be “president for all Americans.”

If the Democrats were to propose legislation that fixed the Affordable Care Act and dubbed it “Trumpcare,” Trump would most likely support it. It would appear that his only interest is to tell his base that he fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare; it doesn’t matter what that replacement is.

3. Strengthen relationships with allies

Through actions and words, Trump has repeatedly put distance between himself and our allies. His lack of diplomatic skills is appalling. He is like a bull in a china shop.

Trump has announced his intention of pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, even though there is overwhelming evidence that the earth is warming as evidenced by rising temperatures, rising sea levels and the loss of arctic ice.

Trump also has aggressively announced his intention to renegotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement in a way that enflames our relationship with Canada and Mexico. He has done the same thing in his announcement that he would build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. They won’t, as a matter of national pride.

You don’t accomplish initiatives by enflaming situations; you defuse them.

4. Be credible, admit mistakes and have a thick skin

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure has been crippled. Homes have been destroyed. The hurricane has heavily damaged electric power and telecommunications systems. Gasoline, food, water and medicine have been in short supply. People are suffering. Conditions remain tenuous for many people.

The federal response to the hurricane’s impact on more than 3.5 million American citizens who reside in this U.S. territory has been slower than the response after the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas and Hurricane Irma on Florida.

When criticized for the delayed response by the mayor of San Juan, rather than admit help could have arrived sooner, Trump went on the attack and criticized her and the residents of Puerto Rico for not doing more to help themselves.

Trump needs a thicker skin. He should have acknowledged the reason for the delay and outlined the resources currently being brought to bear to help these U.S. citizens. That is what effective leaders do – not criticize the victims.

5. Create a sense of unity

President Trump has polarized the country more than any former president. People on the fringe of the far right have been empowered by Trump to express their hate for people not like them.

Trump has used the issue of NFL players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem in a divisive way. His inflammatory comments have further divided people. Effective leaders do the opposite; they unite people.

In response to racial slurs written on message boards at the United States Air Force Academy Prep School, USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria on Sept. 28 gave a powerful speech to his cadets, faculty and staff in which he was crystal clear about the values he demanded within the academy. This is what effective leaders do.

Silveira said, “That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, no place at USAFA and no place in the United State Air Force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but also as a human being. …

“We come from all walks of life, all parts of this country, from all races, from all backgrounds and gender all makeup, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful. …

“So just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, I want to leave you with my most important thought today: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity or respect, then you need to get out.

“If you demean someone in any way and if you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and with respect, then you need to get out.”

Silveria’s speech went viral, indicating the thirst Americans have for a leader to take this stand. It’s exactly the type of speech President Trump should had made after Charlottesville.

This is what real leadership looks like.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

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