Trump shows how bullying isn't the same as managing.

What can President Trump teach us about being a leader?

I've been watching Donald Trump's presidency with a mixture of feelings, as I'm sure you have. Whatever you think of his reign to date, I think there's something positive you can say about him: Trump teaches us a useful lesson about leadership. If that sounds odd, let me explain: Trump gives us a great example of what not to do when you're responsible for a team.

Trump's leadership style – jokes and jabs

The Washington Post's White House reporter, Ashley Parker, catalogues the ways that Trump insults and cuts down his staff on a regular basis. These include giving them mean-spirited nicknames, publicly bringing up their past mistakes, criticising their performance with snide jokes and reminding them that their job security is in his hands.

As an example, Parker describes a moment from a lunch with U.N. Security Council ambassadors. Trump jokingly asked the room whether they thought US ambassador Nikki Haley was doing a good job, saying that she could be easily replaced if not. Haley was sitting next to him.

Public humiliation is a prominent part of Trump's leadership style.Public humiliation is a prominent part of Trump's leadership style.

This cutting, abrasive style isn't new behaviour for Trump. Even as early as his campaign to be the Republican nominee, people were noticing Trump's bullying tactics. Writing for Forbes in October 2015, author Sarah Miller Caldicott noted that Trump often interrupts and talks over other candidates. He fails to express empathy towards immigrants and women, and gets angry when people suggest he's made a mistake, she said. These are all warning signs for a narcissistic, bullying leadership style. 

Why leading like Trump is so harmful

Different leaders have different styles. You might ask, what's wrong with this one if it gets the job done? According to the Bully Zero Australia Foundation, victims of workplace bullying can suffer severe emotional and psychological distress. Their self-confidence and morale drops, and there can be negative effects on their lives outside of work.

Victims of bullying leadership can have reduced productivity and performance.

Their work suffers too. Victims of bullying leadership can have reduced productivity and performance, and show higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism. Though you may think behaving like Trump makes you look like a strong, effective leader, the end result is a less happy, less productive team. The problem with leading like Trump isn't just that you make your team unhappy – you make them worse at their job as well.

This doesn't mean you can't be tough, when it's necessary. As Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive at the Workers' Educational Association, told the Guardian, there's a distinction between straight-talking and being abusive.

"Ask whether your colleague or boss is a tough listener as well as a tough talker," she says. "Can you have your say as much as they have theirs? And are you confident you can trust them, and that they are acting consistently? If so they're not necessarily your enemy."

Tough leadership doesn't have to be bullying leadership - and it's more effective if it isn't.Tough leadership doesn't have to be bullying leadership – and it's more effective if it isn't.

Bullying affects the entire office

But when it is abusive, bullying leadership doesn't just harm the victim. This approach to management damages the morale of your whole team. A study by researchers at Indiana University Southeast and the University of New Hampshire found that experiencing abusive supervision vicariously has a negative affect on workers, even if they aren't in the direct firing line of their boss's bad behaviour. Second-hand bullying hurts perceptions of the company and workers' performance throughout the whole office, even if the leader is only attacking one person. 

Trump's way isn't the only way

Here at ICML we can help you become a persuasive, effective leader that builds your team up to be the best they can be. Our Essential Leadership Skills course will teach you how to:

  • Build trust within your team.
  • Resolve conflict instead of ignite it.
  • Help your people achieve their full potential.
  • Influence people without relying on formal authority.

Get in touch to find out more about the leadership training courses we offer here in Melbourne. We can't make you president, but we can make you a good leader.


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