From his first day in the office, President Trump has caused a firestorm of controversy on everything from policy to mannerisms. Whether you are a Trump supporter, a Never My President proponent or somewhere in between, it is likely Trump’s leadership style has caught your attention and caused you to do more than praise or protest him.
As a leadership coach, he has caught my attention for sure. He rose to lead this nation, in part, by projecting an image of unbending confidence and now continues to project this image in nearly every action he takes. Yet, I cannot help feeling that his bravado and outspoken ways do not necessarily reflect confidence. Rather, with Trump bellowing his own version of the Helen Reddy’s seventies hit song with modified lyrics, “I am President Hear Me Roar,” it seems to me his approach and its underlying sentiment cross the fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Confidence is the appreciation of one’s own needs and contributions as well as those of others. Arrogance, on the other hand, can be defined as a lack of appreciation for what others need and offer. An example of this would be when a leader saves all the highly visible and important work for themselves and dumps insignificant tasks onto their team or is busy self-promoting but does not do enough to promote their team’s accomplishments.
Arrogance in leadership has consequences that are important to consider. If I had the privilege of coaching President Trump, as I have coached other important leaders, I would do so with the goal of helping him understand why he and our nation at large, would benefit immensely from a humbler leadership approach- that is, one informed by humility rather than arrogance.
Although humility may seem contradictory to the very notion of leadership, it is, in fact, a vital characteristic for effective leaders. Contrary to arrogance, humility enables us to get to the root cause of a problem and hear tough messages. It empowers us to do the right thing regardless of our stake in the game, build alliances, and, above all, resolve conflict.
Moreover, the consequences of arrogance can be detrimental to all those involved – in this case, not just our nation but also our world. Here are just a few:
Focuses attention on the wrong things
Whether it is the quizzical debate about Obama vs. Trump inauguration crowd size or the debate on voter fraud, an arrogant leader’s focus on their looking good invariable puts focus on the wrong things. When leaders focus on the wrong things, their people focus on the wrong things which in return leads to accomplishing the wrong things- if anything at all. Effectiveness in leadership is first and foremost about knowing the vision and how to align your team to it.
Leads to dysfunction
Swirling around the wrong things long enough and lacking the appreciation of others leads to dysfunction. Most recently, we have seen this in the implementation of the travel ban. Trump’s rushed decision to move quickly, without having first put his team in place, consulted his team and then worked with all teams involved in the execution of his ban led to immigrants stuck at the airport, protest outside all major airports and a halt by the judicial branch.
Breaks down connection
When leaders take themselves outside of the human experience by elevating themselves to Superhuman or God-like status, they do so either because they are insecure and believe others will only follow them if they are superhuman or they are narcissistic and truly believe they are superhuman. In either case, it is smoke and mirrors. We are all human beings and there is no title in the world that can change that. Being in the human experience with those we lead makes us relatable, fallible and inspirational. It is only in being in it with them that people feel a connection to their leaders. When this kind of connection exists, we are more willing to follow leaders when they say, “I’m going to take us somewhere better let me show you the way.”
Creates tension and resistance
When a leader is arrogant, it sends the message to others that “I matter, you don’t matter.” Or in the political arena, “My values and opinions matter, yours don’t.” When this continues over time, tension builds and that tension leads to resistance. Right now, our country is deeply divided and needs healing. President Trump has an important role as President not just doing what he said he would do on the campaign trail but also sharing his rationale, letting others know why his actions are necessary- and not in an angry tweet but in a compassionate address to the people- so that others have a chance of getting on board. Maybe this is what past administrations failed to do consistently enough that brought us to this point in the first place and a wonderful opportunity for President Trump to set things straight.
David Rock, Director of The Neuroleadership Institute, has found in his research that the simple status of being a leader alone creates a fight, flight, flee response. That means the leader must work especially hard to overcome the threat he represents to get the best out of their people. When leaders do not, and they continue to be a threat to their people, creativity and high forms of problem-solving are not accessible. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that got us into the problem in the first place.” If Trump wants to make America great again, it would go a long way to listen to the people around him – not just his immediate advisory team but others who contradict him as well- to find solutions that do not exist today.
The trouble with moving from arrogance to confidence and humility is that most often, arrogant individuals do not see themselves as arrogant. Still, other people do, and it is this perception that matters the most and leads to undesirable consequences.
The solution I offer is to embrace a “Humbling Experience” and take on board the crucial leadership lessons it brings. A Humbling Experience is an opportunity that allows – or requires – us to practice humility. A corrective performance conversation at work, for example. A demotion, a termination, a failed initiative, or feedback that we did not want to hear. Every leader gets one, at least once.
The chance to learn, however, comes not from the experience itself, but from accepting it for what it truly is rather than putting up emotional defenses such as telling ourselves it was the other person – the one who gave the feedback we did not want, for example – who is wrong.
To date, I have seen no evidence that Donald Trump is willing to do this kind of work. If I were to coach President Trump as a leader, I would make guiding him toward embracing a humbling experience a top priority. There is no shortage of opportunities.
Making America great again is a big task. There is a lot that has broken down over recent decades. We need a leader who can navigate that fine line between confidence and arrogance to lead us to a better tomorrow. Love him or hate him; President Trump is America’s guy. We all want to get behind him. A more humble approach on his part would go a long way toward dissolving differences and uniting our country. It would go a long way in making America great again.
Opinion by Angela Sebaly
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
Angela Sebaly, author of The Courageous Leader (Wiley, spring 2017), is co-founder and CEO of the firm Personify Leadership, a training provider. Formerly the Vice President of Leadership Development for a global oil, gas, and chemicals inspection company, Angela also serves as principal consultant for the firm Invested Leadership. An entrepreneur developing a global presence, Angela has been coaching, facilitating, and leading teams and organizations for over two decades. Education, communication, and courage are the pillars of her life’s work. She lives with her family in Fort Lauderdale.
Author’s Book: The Courageous Leader
NeuroLeadership: Handbook of NeuroLeadership
Top Image Courtesy of Angela Sebaly
Inline / Featured Images Courtesy of George Skidmore – Flickr License