Strategy Management experts break down Trump's leadership style during his first 100 days as president

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Leadership experts weigh in on the management style of US President Donald Trump.

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He's the boss.

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Donald Trump has effectively gone from managing his family-owned real estate company — and his own career in show business — to running the executive branch of the United States.

That's a pretty big leap.

Business Insider asked four management experts to weigh in on Trump's management style.

They didn't discuss his politics — just his performance as the leader of the executive branch of government.

Here's what they had to say:

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He's an aggressive negotiator

Trump frequently touts being able to make deals as one of his greatest management strengths.

His ghost-written best-seller "The Art of the Deal," highlighted some of his aggressive negotiation strategies, like being prepared to alienate people and blur the truth in order to get what you want (although the book also acknowledged that the best deals allow both parties walk away satisfied).

Trump once summed up his mantra on negotiating to Business Insider: "It's give-and-take. But it's gotta be mostly take. Because you can't give. You gotta mostly take."

Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and co-author of "The Cost of Bad Behavior," told Business Insider that such a tactic can only go so far. She said that managers must often take an assertive stance in negotiations, but a pattern of antagonism can wear thin.

"It may be very appropriate for Trump or any other leader to use that style of negotiation, if the issue's very important to us or if he's up against someone with that style, because you don't want to get steamrolled," she said. "Typically, if there's a pattern of that style, people will not want to work with you. You're losing out on the relationship or the long-term gain of being able to collaborate with a person, group, or country."

"Friend or Foe" co-author and Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer said that reports of squabbles with Australia, Mexico, and the EU might be a sign that Trump's style is not effective for dealing with long-term allies.

"I would say the foundations for negotiation require careful attention," Schweitzer said. "This isn't to say you can't bring down a heavy hammer and exploit leverage that you have. You can do that in a short-term way that extracts surplus, but, in the long run, it's not an effective strategy."

His co-author, Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, agreed that a more nuanced approach is usually needed when hashing out any sort of deal.

"The lighter your touch, the less people think they're being pushed by you, the more likely to think that something is of their own volition, the more likely they are to own it and embrace it," he said.

 

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He has business management experience

Porath said that Trump's business experience is his biggest strength when it comes to tackling the challenge of managing the executive branch. Trump has had a hand in his family's real estate business since he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.

"He has a lot of experiences to draw from," Porath said. "It's experience with having to deal with different parties to get deals done. For example, I imagine that with his real estate dealings, you have to work with a lot of people, whether to buy the property and or to make changes and or to get things approved."

 

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He's a top-down manager

As president, Trump must navigate an increasingly uncertain world. Escalating tensions with North Korea, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and navigating relations with the Kremlin are just some of the challenges on the table.

MIT Leadership Center executive director Hal Gregersen said he would characterize Trump as a "top-down" or "command-and-control" manager. He said that such leaders tend to work best in "predictable and certain" atmospheres.

"If we look at the opposite extreme, where it's unclear what to do or it's even unclear what to pay attention to, a top-down, command-control approach to leadership can become can become an extremely dangerous Achilles heel for any leader," he said.

Paraphrasing former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Gregersen said that failing to recognize "unknown unknowns," or unanticipated risks, will harm leaders and organizations in the long run.

 

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He's high-energy

Whether he's tackling a speech at a rally or a contentious press conference, Trump seems to bring a certain intense energy to his appearances (especially considering he's previously said he only sleeps about four hours every night).

Schweitzer identified Trump's energy as the president's greatest management strength.

"He is very goal-oriented and driven, and this sort of energy and motivation creates a lot of momentum in some directions," Schweitzer said.

Gregersen said that to improve as a manager, Trump should redirect this energy.

"If Trump could shift his exceptional ability to promote himself to an equally exceptional ability to promote the pursuit of truth about different situations, something powerfully good could come of his presidency," Gregersen said.

 

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He projects confidence

Trump's boundless confidence — which some mental health experts characterize as narcissism — is one of his most recognizable attributes. On the campaign trail, he frequently described himself as the "only one" who would be able to fix a litany problems facing the country.

"I think we are attracted to confidence, but I think eventually that confidence has to be connected to actual performance," Galinsky said. "When we think about strong leaders we think about confidence. And then there's overconfidence."

Galinsky said that the best leader's sense of confidence should always be matched by a strong feeling of accountability. He said that Trump's spats with institutions like the press and the intelligence community are a sign of overconfidence and a lack of willingness to take responsibility.

"At some point, it's going to turn so that people are tired of his whining, and if he doesn't start accepting responsibility for the not-perfect state of the world, people are eventually no longer going to cut him slack," Galinsky said.

 

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He struggles to establish credibility

The Trump administration has come under fire for playing fast and loose with the truth at times. Flare-ups have included Trump's untrue or unverified claims about the murder rate, voter fraud, or the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower. Meanwhile, Trump staffers like Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus have been criticized for making false claims about everything from a fictitious terrorist attack to the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

Gregersen said that under normal circumstances, a manager can only stifle the truth within his own organization for so long.

"When truth starts leaking through holes in a wall that's intended to keep truth from coming out, the leaks start coming," he told Business Insider. "There are only so many thumbs you can put in the hole before it becomes a point at which the wall breaks down."

However, he added that there are exceptions to that rule. Leaders surrounded by those who "fail to care deeply about seeking the truth of any situation" can get away with it for some time.

He said that regardless of whether or not most of the various leaks in the executive branch are legitimate, the endemic speaks to an environment that does not necessarily value truth.

Some of Trump's claims have been defended as rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally. Galinsky said that this can still undermine a leader's credibility.

"Lots of research shows that adding qualifiers or making extreme statements doesn't actually make you more persuasive — it actually creates more resistance and reaction within people, and it's been shown in negotiations and lots of different situations," he said, "So to say 'I'm the least anti-Semitic person you've ever met,' all you do is find one person that is less anti-Semitic than Trump and you've disproven the statement."

 

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He takes a harsh tone

It's no secret that Trump has a history of attacking a long list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Some supporters seem to gravitate toward that tough tone, but Porath said that this aggressive style is not the most effective management strategy. Instead, as she argued in an article for the McKinsey Quarterly, she said that a sense of civility is a better approach.

"People are more likely to get on board, they're more likely to support you, and you have a better reputation," she told Business Insider. "One of the reasons that we find that civility pays so much is because it evokes feelings of warmth and competence."

Porath said that "warmth" is the most important trait for a leader to have, and that people tend to prefer humble, respectful managers.

"Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first," she said. "In other words, and this goes back centuries, if I meet you, I'm trying to quickly look at you as friend or foe. Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that's great. Then I care about your competence. If you don't seem warm then I don't care. I don't want to work with you. Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It's a way to connect with people and again they're more likely to work harder for you and perform better."

On the other hand, if a leader is seen as uncivil or disrespectful, Porath said that the research indicates that can derail workers' productivity and cause them to struggle cognitively.

"There are repercussions," she said. "Instead of getting people to step into line quickly, people don't do that. They're more upset and are less willing to contribute to the cause. You don't get people's best and therefore you don't get the change that you were looking for, at least not as quickly as other leadership styles that I would advise."

 

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He's involved in the details

Schweitzer and Galinsky characterized Trump as a "unfocused micro-manager."

"In the moment, he's taking this very deep dive, then the wind changes and he's off to something else," Schweitzer said. "It's very hard to figure out, are we focused on health care, are we focused on immigration, are we focused on security? I don't know what we're doing, but he's jumping around, in a way. When he jumps somewhere it's a very deep dive, and there isn't an overarching vision or framework."

Galinsky said that Trump could "get his groove back" by disciplining himself to focus on one or two issues for a period of time.

"I think if he focused a couple things and involved important stakeholders at least in the drafting or implementation of the decision, even if not in the creating of the decisions, he would be in much better shape," Galinsky said.

 

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He's loyal to a fault

"I think one positive thing about his management style is he is on average very loyal," Galinsky said. "If you show loyalty to him, he'll show it to you. He supported Flynn to the end. He was forced by Republican insiders like Pence and Priebus to get rid of Flynn, but he is loyal."

"From my perspective, the moment a leader puts loyalty to themselves above the purpose of the organization or above truth-seeking in a situation, they are setting the stage for disaster," he said. "It's not that loyalty doesn't count. It just doesn't count as much as some other things, especially in situations where the world is rapidly changing."

 



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