I've trained thousands of leaders globally as part of my executive education work in business strategy, innovation and organizational transformation with universities like USC, the Melbourne Business School, and the Copenhagen Business School. I've led leadership development programs for companies including Disney, NBCUniversal, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Colgate-Palmolive, Cigna, and many more.

Across the board and around the world, people want to know the secret to leading transformational change and shaping the future. The revelations they seek cut to the core of leadership itself - the ability to elicit emotion and catalyze action in others. Change happens when leaders tap into these two superpowers in an impactful way.

During my leadership development programs, I ask a simple yet provocative question:  Whose leadership style was more effective, Ghandi's or Steve Jobs'?  It's a trick question because there's no right answer.

Talking about Ghandi is hardly controversial, since most people view his strategy of non-violent civil disobedience as an acceptable means for catalyzing emotion and action. Discussing Steve Jobs' style can be a bit more polarizing given his authoritarian approach. The conversation usually ends with insights into the fact that both leaders energized others and inspired action using their own unique approaches which were aligned to their own unique personal values.

Whether we view a specific leader as a superhero or supervillain depends on whether we agree with their means of influence - and, of course, the ends their means produce.  For example, it's rare to hear people talk about Adolf Hitler as having effective leadership skills given the atrocities that he and his legion of loyalists inflicted. For many people, even entertaining such a notion would be extremely painful, if not impossible.

Because we look to leaders to embody and manifest the values we hold, we tend to view leadership as "effective" depending on whether we agree with what the leader has done, why, and how. And we judge effectiveness based on our own values - irrespective of whether the leader may have succeeded in eliciting emotion and catalyzing action to achieve their goals.

So, what if we look at the leadership style of Donald Trump exclusively based on how he uniquely employs the two superpowers of eliciting emotion and catalyzing action?

Here are 10 leadership lessons from Donald Trump:

  1. Own the Narrative - Be hyper-aware of the stories swirling in the media and say and do what's necessary to shape and re-shape the narrative toward one's own agenda.
  2. Exaggerate for Emotion - Use exaggerated language to frame issues in big, grandiose ways to elicit emotion in others.
  3. Polarize Language - Infuse polarizing words and language into debates to rile up opponents so they're more likely to respond emotionally and with equally polarizing language.
  4. Amplify Anecdotes - Use specific examples and stories to make problems appear much grander in scope and scale than they may really be in order to advance one's ideology and agenda.
  5. Flip Criticism - Deflect criticism by re-directing the focus onto a problem with, or deficit in the criticizer in order to put them on the defensive and shift attention away from the original issue.
  6. Personalize the Issues - When debating issues, criticize the personal qualities of others to discredit their viewpoint on the issue at hand.
  7. Avoid Apologies - Never admit absolute fault. Respond to mistakes with qualifiers like "If I did..." to avoid fully acknowledging unacceptable behavior and minimize the risk of being perceived as less than perfect in the eyes of your followers.
  8. Dump Data - Use intuition to drive decisions. Ignore "facts" that refute your personal convictions.
  9. Push Aside Precedent - Don't allow traditions and standards to influence one's agenda, but rather forge a new path that breaks from how it's always been done.
  10. Hire and Fire for Loyalty - Surround oneself with a team that will remain loyal throughout thick and thin, without questioning assumptions or pushing alternative viewpoints and ideas.

We've seen effective leadership in many shapes and sizes throughout history. Superhero leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale and Cesar Chavez catalyze positive change in the world. Supervillain leaders leave destruction in their path.

Great leadership differs from effective leadership. The difference is the principles and values that underlie what the leader does and why. In today's social media driven, increasingly polarized world, we need to step back and look at who we're following, and what's motivating us to do so.

Leadership involves a relationship between leader and follower. We empower superheroes. And supervillains. It's up to us to decide what type of change we want to see in the world and catalyze the leaders we will follow to get it. That's our collective superpower.

Published on: Apr 23, 2019
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