Trump’s leadership – good or bad? You Decide.

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Some say we should be focusing on Australia’s leaders however when the Australian Electoral Commission advises that, in round figures, one million Australians eligible to vote in the recent Federal Election didn’t bother and another 770,000 voted informal I think that says it all.

Besides, the emerging tussle between “The Donald” and Hilary Clinton, and “The Donald “and his own party is far more interesting from a leadership perspective.

It becomes particularly interesting when Justin Wolfers, Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan[1], is postulating the odds, low as they are at this point, that Donald Trump will drop out of the contest before November if polls dramatically swing against him. It raised two questions; is he a good or bad leader, and why is he attracting the following he is?

Choose any search engine and you will find there are thousands of articles and opinion pieces about why Donald Trump is a good or bad leader. Closer examination shows that the majority are trait-based observations of his behaviour which call into question reliability in assessing his ability as a leader.

There are just as many definitions and theories of leadership; Bernard Bass[2] in his 1,000 pages plus taxonomy on leadership states leadership can be exerting influence, a power relationship, a differentiated relationship, and a method of achieving goals to mention a few. There are a myriad of texts by Bennis et al that outline what constitutes good leadership.

The question remains, is Trump a good or a bad leader and why is he attracting the following?

Barbara Kellerman’s work on bad leadership may help to shed some light. In her book of the same name[3] she found bad leadership falls into seven groups:

  • Incompetent – lack of skill or will to sustain effective action
  • Rigid – inability or unable to adapt to new ideas and change
  • Intemperate – lacking in self-control
  • Callous – uncaring, lacking empathy; needs of others are ignored
  • Corrupt – lie steal and cheat; self-interest ahead of public interest
  • Insular – disregard for the health and wellbeing of others
  • Evil – commit atrocities that harm others

The key in deciding whether a leader is bad is to observe patterns that repeat themselves over time based on the above seven scenarios.

Why do people follow bad leaders? Again there is not one reason, but several. The main reasons are the need for safety, self-preservation, stability, feelings of vulnerability, loss of identity, and need for certainty. When combined these tap into satisfying individual or group needs or both, consequently the leader and the followers co-create the leadership, something which is not new.

However it suggests followers are critical to Trump’s campaign success which is why Professor Wolfers is hypothesising that if followers drop dramatically between now and November Trump may, because of his intemperance, decide to abandon his campaign. There is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge and I‘m sure many of us will continue to watch with interest.

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[1] Australian Financial Review August 6th-7th Page 9

[2] Bass And Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership Theory, Research and Managerial Applications; 3rd Edition

[3] Bad Leadership: What it is, How it happens, Why it matters