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Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror

March 6, 2016

Trump Crowd

When we talk about good leadership, what do we mean exactly?

One characteristic of good leaders is that they don’t hold themselves up as a mirror to reflect back the emotions and feelings of their followers. Leadership is about creating an enabling vision: engaging people to achieve things collectively that may have previously been thought impossible. And it’s done through encouraging people to self-reflect and to look inside themselves to bring out their best, from special skills to unique talents.

The good leader knows that while her followers may not yet be convinced about her vision, she takes the necessary time to seek contribution from everyone, to explain the way forward and to produce in the end a vision that’s embraced by everyone. One example comes to mind: President Franklin D. Roosevelt who understood that the United States couldn’t turn its back on Great Britain during the rise of the Third Reich and the onset of World War Two. FDR stood his ground against those in America who preferred isolationism, despite plenty of criticism that was aimed at him.

FDR did not mirror back the fears and isolationist attitude of the American population of the 1930s. He created a national vision that motivated the country to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy.

As I explained in Good Leaders Let the Light in, the strong leader “…is someone who can see the possibilities and the opportunities for creating cohesion, whether it’s an organization undergoing dramatic upheaval due to global competition, a community whose major employer has shut its doors, or a country that is fractured as a result of racism. It’s a tall order for an imperfect human being, but the success lies in enrolling everyone involved.”


Perhaps the world’s biggest user of the fear mirror is Donald J. Trump. One would have to be a cave dweller in North America to not have some general understanding of the Republican Primaries circus underway in the United States.

Trump has proven to be incredibly adept at holding himself up as a mirror to reflect back the disgust, outrage and contempt that many Americans have towards their national government, encompassing Congress, the Senate and the Oval Office. In particular, Trump has zoomed in with laser-like precision on the fears that many Americans have on such issues as illegal immigration, accepting refugees from war-torn Syria, and job loss in such sectors as manufacturing.

Donald Trump knows acutely where the red hot emotive buttons are and just when they need to be pressed. He caters his venal barbs to not just the President and the Democratic Party, but in spectacular fashion to other Republicans and those he has been competing against for the nomination. He has stooped to jaw-dropping lows with his attacks on women, notably FOX News’ Megyn Kelly, who he said in one personal attack was “…bleeding from everywhere.”

It seems that Trump is treating his run for the Republican leadership as a reality show of sorts. Perhaps the title The Presidential Apprentice is an apt descriptor. Except in this instance the stakes are huge, in contrast to the contrived, fictional nature of reality shows.

And all this adolescent behavior has the end goal of enhancing Trump’s brand. In one new documentary The Mad World of Donald Trump, one commentator noted that Trump’s bullying behavior comes from his father’s take-no-prisoners approach to imposing his values on his three sons. Further, the documentary refers to the young Trump being sent to a military academy not far from West Point as a way to address the abuse he heaped on his school teachers.

Trump Angry 2

As the world’s greatest contemporary show man, Trump has proven to be the master of the political circus, exploiting his followers’ irrational fears. It’s as if we’re living a bad dream – nightmare – from which we can’t awaken. And that applies equally to those of us who live outside the United States. The implications of a Trump presidency are too outrageous to imagine; along the way he is decimating the Republican Party ( GOP) and its proud history. Mitt Romney’s recent hypocritical rant against Trump’s presidential ambitions will only further cement “The Donald’s” followership.

The irony about Trump is that despite his pronouncements about being a successful businessman who built his way up in the business world, namely real estate, is that when he was starting out he was given one million dollars from his father. When he constructed his first Trump Tower he employed some 200 Polish immigrants in hazardous working conditions at $4-5 per hour to do the demolition work of the pre-existing building. (Also read New York Times article.)

His “success” actually almost came to a disastrous end due to serial bankruptcies. About 93% of his wealth resides in the US, with 80% in real estate; he’s not globally diversified as other billionaires. And then there’s his infamous golf course in Scotland which brought the ire of the local community and the government.

But perhaps most significant of all is that in reference to his claim as being a competent manager, his clannish management style, combined with an unsophisticated corporate oversight structure, reveals an almost 70 year-old man who would be over his head as president of the United States. He has little big picture corporate management experience. Add in Trump’s volcanic, unpredictable temper and one shudders at the thought that he would have his fingers close to the nuclear launch code buttons.


Think about the real business world for a moment. Does the effective corporate leader during a time of organizational crisis mirror the fear and anxieties of employees? Or does she lean forward, acknowledging the challenges to be addressed but giving hope to people by laying out a concrete plan for moving ahead constructively? And she does this by engaging everyone in the organization, making her expectations clear and, of special importance, letting people know that she’s a mere mortal and doesn’t have the answer to every question. Hence the need for full organizational engagement.

The same applies to politics and political leadership. Instilling blame, fear and racism in the populace serves no one, except for the immediate gratification that some people may feel, and of course, an ego-centric person such as Donald Trump.

The true leader takes people beyond their fears, anxieties and prejudices to a new place, one they had never thought possible – and which makes society better off. This leader refuses to preach division, hate and fear.

Regardless of where you are as a leader – in your community, as a manager or top executive – always remain aware of how you communicate to your followers, both through your words and actions. Take the approach of helping people to improve themselves by collectively taking action to solve problems and to explore new opportunities.

The leadership question: Are you consumed with your own brilliance, or do you wish to unleash the brilliance of others?
Jim Taggart

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2016 11:59 pm

    Great post, Jim! I think political leaders tend to reflect trends in society, and I think Trump is reflecting a large segment of society.

    What I loved most about your post was your final statement: “Are you consumed with your own brilliance, or do you wish to unleash the brilliance of others?”

    • March 7, 2016 12:21 am

      Thanks, Lynne, for stopping by to share a comment. If it’s true that Trump reflects a large segment of American society, then the planet has a serious problem on its hand; it’s not just a U.S. issue.

  2. March 6, 2016 9:23 pm

    Trump is leading the Republican party to new lows and embarrassing America worldwide.

    I continue to be surprised that not more has come out about his unethical business dealings, particularly with regard to his real estate developments.

    For example, he planned to build a huge condo hotel in Baja, Mexico. He sold the condos in pre-construction, and buyers put down 20% deposits on condos that ranged from $300,000 to $1.5 million.

    When the real estate market began to decline, he decided not to build the condo hotel. He then did not return the 20% deposits, saying the money had been spent on marketing, and he never promised he’d return it if the development didn’t get built. Google “Trump Baja” if you want to read the whole story.

    Trump pulled a similar move in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Google “Trump Ft. Lauderdale lawsuit” to read about that debacle. Do the same for “Trump Tampa lawsuit.”

    He ended up settling all 3 class-action suits after several years in litigation but only because he was on the verge of losing. Everyone involved still took a hit financially.

    Trump is not a sharp businessman. More importantly, he is not ethical. And that’s not the type of person we want leading our country.

    • March 7, 2016 12:19 am

      Thanks for your comments, Susan. It is surprising that other candidates haven’t used some of Trump’s publicly known (or at least not hard to research) misadventures. It seems that potty mouth insults are the preferred Republican way. Even if Trump were to be surpassed by Ted Cruz as the Republican it is still a terrifying prospect for America. And if either of these two clowns were to gain the keys to the White House, well that’s a very, very sad day in American history.

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