Category Archives: Politics

Donald trump and the challenge of leadership

I have wondered for some time whether the American political landscape was drifting to a system which favored an amateur over an experienced participant. The growth of negative campaign advertising makes it easy to spread the message of any mistake a candidate has made. Whereas someone new to the system has a clean slate and relatively little for opponents to focus on. I think that helped Barack Obama who, although a U.S. Senator, had a relatively limited political record. But we saw that in clear focus in 2016, when one candidate with direct or indirect participation in national and international affairs for 24 years faced another who had never held a political office. So I was disappointed and even appalled when Donald Trump, the amateur politician, won the election.

I had many complaints about Mr Trump, but I remember thinking on the day of his inauguration that I didn’t think he was a very good leader, but I hoped he would somehow elevate his performance as, for instance, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had done. I was quickly disappointed, but somehow the nation has managed to muddle through until this year with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic spreading throughout the country. And so increasingly in the last few weeks, I have seen the topic of leadership brought into articles about how the President is handling this crisis. Here are a few: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/19/politics/donald-trump-leadership-coronavirus/index.html Trump’s new strategy on coronavirus is already being undermined by his own actions

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/21/politics/donald-trump-leadership-coronavirus/index.html As Trump’s leadership is tested, he turns to states and the private sector

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/opinion/letters/us-coronavirus-trump.html Trump’s Leadership in the Coronavirus Crisis

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/presidents-character-unequal-task/608743/ The President Is Trapped

And so I have decided to take this time to discuss the qualities of a good leader and describe how I feel Donald Trump meets or fails to meet these standards. You might ask who am I to criticize the President of the United States? After all, since I retired from the U.S. Air Force as a regular officer, I am technically still a member of the armed forces and he is therefore my commander-in-chief! But I write this strictly as a private U.S. citizen and my opinion in no wait reflects any official or unofficial policy of the U.S. Air Force or its organizations.

My training as a leader began when I joined the Boy Scouts of America in 1961, or perhaps as a Cub Scout before that. The Boy Scouts teach many qualities such as being trustworthy and loyal, or being courteous and kind. And you learn to work with a group of your peers. So, in the Boy Scouts I learned to be a Senior Patrol Leader, the member/leader of the boys in our troop.

Donald Trump is 4 years older than I am. So in May 1968 when he graduated with a B.S. in economics, I was preparing to graduate from high school and go to college. In October 1968, when he was medically deferred and classified 1-Y, I was enrolled in my first class of the Air Force R.O.T.C. program at Michigan State University. And that began my training to be an officer, a military leader. In 1972, when he was reclassified 4-F, I graduated With Honor from MSU and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. During my service, I completed two professional military training programs, Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College. I also received training on how to avoid both racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

In 1992, when Trump’s Plaza Hotel filed for bankruptcy and a reorganization plan was approved, I retired from the Air Force and entered private life. After a year and a half of focusing on my family, I realized I needed to earn some money and entered an off-and-on 30 year career in the fast food industry, which Donald Trump is fond of. During that time, I was trained to be a manager at KFC and rose to be an Assistant Manager, cross-trained to be a Restaurant General Manager at Pizza Hut, where I ran restaurants for about five years. I then trained as an Assistant Manager at Whataburger and worked there for several months. So I received manager training from three different business organizations. I got to work with some really good managers and some really bad ones. I had to try to find good employees to train as managers (not an easy task in the minimum wage economy) and tell some bad ones “You’re fired!”

So, while my career is not nearly as distinguished as his in many ways, I am not coming completely out of left field (actually I was a substitute right fielder in Little League) when I discuss his qualities as a leader and a manager.

And what are those qualities? There is are many discussions of leadership and lots of lists of various qualities, but I’ll pick this list of https://www.ccl.org/blog/characteristics-good-leader/ Core Leadership Skills from the Center for Creative Leadership as a starting point.

Integrity

Ability to delegate

Communication

Self-awareness

Gratitude

Learning agility

Influence

Empathy

Courage

Respect

  1. Integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness”. It’s part of what the Boy Scouts talk about when they say “A Scout is Trustworthy.” As an officer, I was given access to some of the most sensitive classified information available so I could use it to do my work. I helped construct a special network to allow my office to work with that information without risking compromise by electronic surveillance. And I observed the construction of a Secure Classified Information Facility (SCIF) with extra protections to allow people to work with SCI information while protecting it. I also managed some funds appropriated by Congress to ensure they were spent as intended to meet the needs of our organization. Later as a restaurant manager, I was responsible for an inventory of valuable equipment, as well as the supplies we ordered to run the restaurant and the funds from our sales. And I took pride in keeping inventory losses low and the stores earning a profit.
    1. So I was not impressed when Donald Trump couldn’t make money running a casino and had to declare bankruptcy. But I was especially upset that he used that as a justification to negotiate reduced payments to local contractors who had been hired to help build the casinos and install musical equipment. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/donald-trump-atlantic-city.html How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions
    2. And I was extremely upset when I learned about https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-russia-israel-intelligence-share-isis-mossad-spies-sergei-lavrov-kislyak-us-a8071086.html The highly sensitive Israeli intelligence on Isis that Donald Trump gave away to Russia.
  2. Ability to delegate is especially important in running even a small organization. One of my maxims has been that authority and responsibility have to be commensurate. That is, if you tell someone they are responsible for doing a job, you need to give them the authority to act on it. When you tell them they are responsible for the work, but don’t do anything until you get my approval, you are taking over that responsibility and sending the message that you don’t think they can really do the job (which may be true in some cases, but that’s a training issue.) And you increase your own workload, reduce the organization’s work-flow, and give your employees the sense that you don’t value their skills.
    1. One example of this under Donald Trump was his relationship with https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/former-ambassador-ukraine-marie-yovanovitch-retires-state-department-n1128126 Marie Yovanovitch. The ambassador is the President’s personally selected and confirmed representative to the country they are appointed for. They are supposed to represent and speak for the President and the U.S. in matters concerning that country. So it bypassed her responsibility and undercut her authority when https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/13/politics/trump-rudy-giuliani-ukraine-interview/index.html he sent Rudy Giuliani to the Ukraine.
    2. Another example is his appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to head the https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/21/mike-pence-coronavirus-crisis Coronavirus Task Force Apparently this has worked better than might have been expected given Pence’s generally anti-science background, but I have wondered why it is always President Trump speaking at the podium while Pence stands stolidly in the background. There may be a selection factor involved since VP Pence does https://www.c-span.org/video/?470389-1/vice-president-pence-coronavirus-task-force-press-briefing&start=1234> lead some press conferences . But even then I noticed he started his speech with “Thank you Mr President”!
  3. Communication is a critical skill for a leader. In order to get people to do what you want them to do, you have to be able to tell them what you want them to do. And you will often need to persuade or cajole those who disagree with you to get their cooperation. It is also hard to explain difficult concepts or convince people that you understand them when you are https://blog.factba.se/2018/01/08/stable-genius-lets-go-to-the-data/ communicating at a 4th or 5th grade level. But it is especially difficult to persuade people when your own press secretary is continually have to convince the press that you really did mean what you said today even though it directly contradicted what you had said just the day before.
  4. Self-awareness is “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.” This one is tricky to evaluate without seeing inside the President’s mind. But there are https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/self-awareness Benefits of self-awareness. These include:
    1. Improve skills by recognizing what you do well and what you need to improve … President Trump practically never shows an awareness that he needs to improve in anything.
    2. Become a better leader by understanding how employees perceive your behavior … Referring to the ordinary rank-and-file employees trying to do their job as the “deep state” that are somehow conspiring against him may show a minimal awareness of this perception but not in a good way.
    3. Strengthen work and personal relationships by managing emotions … Donald Trump’s Thin Skin https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/08/29/trump-problem/0k7JDsaA6b7jQKZmgsMUYP/story.html has become legendary and both an international and a domestic liability.
  5. Gratitude is a key leadership skill because communicating to your subordinates and co-workers that you value their work builds their self-esteem, reinforces their work ethic, and makes it more likely that they will support you and work better in the future. Gratitude can even be a tool for persuading people to change their ideas and behavior, as https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/08/29/trump-problem/0k7JDsaA6b7jQKZmgsMUYP/story.html FDR showed. Whereas Trump used it to give himself a pat on the back, saying he was thankful that he had “made a tremendous difference in this country.”
  6. Learning agility is critical and one of the President’s biggest weaknesses. Every holder of the office has much to learn. Harry Truman, who wasn’t even privy to the Manhattan Project, certainly found that out. But coming from a private business background, Donald Trump had a lot more to learn about the business of governance. So I was especially disappointed when I learned that the President had asked to have the daily intelligence briefings reduced in length. And even the briefings he did receive were difficult because he https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-intelligence-briefings_n_5de7b0f5e4b0d50f32abf5b8 had no foundational framework to understand what the limits of intelligence are, what the purpose of it was, and the way that we discuss it. It is also hard for someone to learn when he https://medium.com/@therealgabblog/from-lincolns-brilliance-to-the-stable-genius-a-comparison-to-presidents-of-yesteryear-1ffe9125c3ea thinks he knows more about basically everything than anybody else.
  7. Influence is “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something”. The United States has great influence in world affairs simply by our strong economy and military power. The previous president, Barack Obama, enhanced that influence by getting the U.S. to participate in the Paris Accord to face the threat of global warming and by getting Iran to sign an agreement to drop a nuclear weapons development program. And he enhanced the influence of the presidency in https://coiski.com/barack-obama-influence-last-forever/ domestic culture and sports </a>. National sports teams were honored and happy to visit the White House to celebrate their success under Obama, while they have openly refused to do so under President Trump. On the other hand, Trump’s influence seems mainly to be https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/10/opinions/trumps-influence-is-spreading-like-a-virus-dantonio/index.html setting a template for hostility and aggression. And his abandoning those agreements sends a message that any deal with the U.S. is only good until the next President, which will undercut the influence of future U.S. presidents as well.
  8. Empathy is one of his biggest failings. President Trump seems to almost completely lack “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” This particularly shows when he characterizes people who make a long trek to the U.S. border seeking asylum to escape from violence in their home countries as “in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
    And he shows little empathy for the countries themselves and even their best citizens when he refers to them as “shit-hole countries”. Perhaps it is because he was born into a wealthy family and never had to suffer the hardships so many of us face in life. But even if he is tested by such crises, will he https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2019/09/empathy-its-lack-is-what-most-disqualifies-donald-trump-for-the-presidency/ suddenly learn humility?
  9. Courage. Donald Trump may have https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jan/12/donald-trumps-old-school-courage-to-come-in-handy-/ old-school courage But, he doesn’t have the courage to accept criticism or even https://theintercept.com/2020/03/19/republican-operative-press-corps-helps-trump-use-briefing-pandemic-attack-critics/ difficult questions .
  10. Respect goes both ways. Political leaders have earned a certain amount of respect, even if you don’t like them, by their success in getting elected and their performance in their office. And they can add to that by treating even their opponents with respect. “Treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most important things a leader can do. It will ease tensions and conflict, create trust, and improve effectiveness. Respect is more than the absence of disrespect, and it can be shown in many different ways.” And demeaning them with insults diminishes your own level as well as theirs.

In conclusion, President Trump’s performance during the coronavirus crisis probably won’t change whether many people support him or not, except perhaps for a few right-leaning middle-roaders. But perhaps if we as citizens and voters can look past the immediate questions of “Does he support policy X?” or “Is she in my political party?” and consider leadership skills as a broader qualification, we can elect better leaders and have a better country.

And I will be watching the campaign of Mr Biden in the coming months to see how he fits these qualities.

/postscript

Thanks to all who have read this far. I apologize for my limits with WordPress formatting. Any comments are much appreciated.