Donald Trump: Breaking all the rules of good leadership

20150905_WBD000_0.jpgAccording to Schumpeter, of Economist fame, Donald Trump is a living example of power driving a leader out of leadership and into a whole new realm, moving past self-confident into self-centered. And that’s a dangerous move, for many reasons.

“Making people more self-confident is good. But power also makes them more self-centred. In one study, researchers asked people to draw a capital “E” on their foreheads. People who had been power-primed were almost three times as likely to draw the E backwards—that is, from their own perspective rather than the perspective of onlookers—than those who had not. In another study, researchers asked people to play the role of boss and employee for a while, and then gave them a budget to buy chocolates, first for themselves and then for other people. The “bosses” bought 32 chocolates when buying for themselves but only 11 chocolates when buying for others. The “employees” bought 37 chocolates when buying for others but only 14 for themselves.

Power makes people more willing to take risks. For example, people who are primed for power, women as well as men, are more likely to have sex without a condom. Power also makes people more likely to break rules, for example by manipulating evidence to suit their purposes. Researchers asked people to roll a set of dice to determine the number of lottery tickets they would receive—a roll of two would earn two tickets—and then report the roll of their dice to the invigilator. People who were primed were more likely to over-report their scores. Finally, power turns people into hypocrites: not only are powerful people more likely to cheat, they are also more likely to condemn cheating or other forms of moral failure in other people….

Companies need to introduce structures that compel bosses to listen to others’ opinions. The least they can do is to divide the jobs of CEO and chairman, and to appoint a powerful “lead” director to their boards. But there are more radical ideas floating around. One is to appoint a maverick director whose main job is to dispute the boss’s arguments, somewhat like the “leader of the official opposition,” who gets paid to hound British prime ministers across the debating chamber. Another is to make it possible for low-status workers to question the boss’s decisions without suffering consequences: the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, encourages nurses to speak up if they think a surgeon has missed out a step in a pre-op checklist. But procedures can only go so far, given the boss’s ability to write the rules. The most important thing firms can do is to make sure they appoint somebody who can handle power. Messrs Galinsky and Schweitzer recommend a simple test: watch carefully how a prospective boss addresses powerless people such as security guards and waiters.

Bosses themselves need to recognise that power can be a poison as well as an aphrodisiac. They should spend as much of their spare time as possible with their families rather than hobnobbing with other powerful people. They ought to establish a relationship with a mentor who is licensed to speak to them frankly: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has formed such a bond with Donald Graham, a former publisher of the Washington Post. Mr Trump has built a successful career by flouting the rules of good management. Most other people will find that, if they let their inner Trump get out of control, they will end up in the same position as the unsuccessful candidates on his television programme, humiliated and fired.”

What this means to the USA as Trump, now the Republican candidate, struts towards the November election, is another question, one that’s harder to answer. But if too much “inner Trump” in a CEO can hurt business, then it’s clear that too much Trump, in the Oval Office, can hurt America.

One comment

  1. […] the point of this letter. These are business leaders, students and teachers simply standing up to call Trump’s bluff, and to challenge his self-representation as a business leader shaped by th…Not our vision, they say. Not even […]


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