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The Whiteboard: Trump presidency so far: A study in leadership flaws

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Richard Randall, founder and president of New Level Advisors
Richard Randall, founder and president of New Level Advisors - (Photo / )

I wish I could write an article that used examples of President Donald Trump's leadership style to reinforce positive leadership lessons. Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to go in the opposite direction and use his leadership style to demonstrate what not to do.

One of the things I try to do is keep politics out of these columns. It is not their purpose — and it isn’t my purpose — to make a political statement. It is my purpose to use clear examples of leadership style in a very visible and very critical leadership position to discuss what all of us who aspire to be good leaders can learn.

Let me give the president credit for one aspect of good leadership. He has appointed a number of highly qualified individuals to his cabinet and to judicial positions. We might not all agree on their politics, but many of his appointees have extremely strong resumes. One critical role of a leader is building a team of “A” players. His are not all “A’s,” but a good many are.

And let’s give credit for the fact that several of his key people have openly disagreed with the president. That’s a good sign that he hasn’t surrounded himself with “yes” men and women. Good leaders don’t seek out only those who agree with everything they think. They seek diversity of ideas and viewpoints.

Good leaders articulate a clear, aspirational vision and goals which everyone can rally around. The president hasn’t done that at all. “Make America Great Again” isn’t a vision, it is a tag line. He throws out elements of a vision, such as strong defense, strong borders, and negotiating to bring jobs back, but where it leads is all very vague. Organizations thrive when vision and goals are clear. They flounder when they aren’t. We are floundering.

How does repealing and replacing Obamacare fit in the grand scheme? How does a tax cut fit? What will be the benefit when “The Wall” is built? There is literally no persuasive connection being made between these disparate initiatives and a vision of the future. A big part of the problem is that “Great” is undefined or is left to the eye of the beholder. You don’t want a vision that can be reinterpreted by anyone or any group into something you never anticipated. Make it clear.

Another aspect of good leadership is persistently communicating the vision and goals clearly and consistently. The president does the opposite. He sends out endless Tweets, many of which are at odds with his own message. He seems inconsistent and inarticulate. He speaks off the cuff and he isn’t good at it. He has good advisers around him, but his ego gets in the way of listening to them, which is yet another leadership failure. You must have a consistent message.

The last aspect I want to address is how good leaders treat their people. You praise people in public and you correct people in private. It’s pretty simple. The president criticizes his own people in the most public and demeaning ways. When people leave his service he openly mocks them. What kind of leadership style is that? If you want to attract and retain great people, you have to be a great boss who treats people with fairness and respect, even when things don’t work out and you need to make changes.

We are being treated to a free clinic. Sadly it is a clinic in what not to do, an art our president seems to have mastered.

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at

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