Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States of America is one of the very few personalities you can learn practical leadership skills from. Although he is seen as a divisive figure, much of his life and his recent ascension to the Presidency of the United States is a lesson in leadership you cannot get anywhere else. Forget what you feel about the man. If you don’t, you will not be able to learn anything. The only premise you should have is that a non-politician who gets into the American Presidential race, defeats 17 Republican candidates in the primaries when everyone said he wouldn’t and goes on to defeat another very talented democratic politician when everyone said he couldn’t must certainly possess some rare talent not easily encountered. With that in mind, let us examine some leadership lessons you can learn from Donald Trump.
- Plan early: Many people believe Trump only decided to run for president during Obama’s presidency. If you know his history, you know that is false. Trump actually started planning his Presidential run as far back as the 80s when he started flirting in political circles and sounding political in interviews. In one instance, Oprah Winfrey asked Trump if he was contemplating a political run. His response is perhaps one of the greatest responses to an interview question in history. (Embed video)
So what is the advantage of planning early? In Trump’s case, he used the next almost three decades to build his brand, raise responsible children and use his TV show The Apprentice to make himself a household name in America. He equally kept subtly sharing his political ideas whenever he had a chance. As a result, when he finally decided it was time, he had a brilliant history behind him to refer to and needed little effort to make people know who he is and what he stands for.
- Make a move when you see a chance and are certain you would win: Many people speculated how Trump would react if he lost the nomination and or the election, some even speculated he might not accept the results and ask his supporters to take to the streets. Those who suggested that just had no clue. Trump knew he would win before entering the race. He himself had stated in the Oprah interview that he would only run if he knew he had a chance of winning. Recall he had won the nomination to be the candidate for the libertarian party in 2004 but chose to step down because he saw no need running if he was not going to win. As to how he knew he would win, he took a hard look at the Republican field. At that time, more than 15 people were already seeking the Republican nomination. He knew it would be easier to compete when there are many people than if he had to face only one popular establishment or conservative republican. Secondly, he knew Hillary Clinton was most certainly going to be the democratic candidate. With an opponent who has 30+ years in government and so much baggage, he knew it was easier to run against her and win. Finally, America was saying bye to President Obama whose term had created so much anger among a significant proportion of American especially white elderly people. Obama’s reign raised so many questions about healthcare, race relations, terrorism, immigration and religious liberty. Trump knew he could tap into this anger and use it to become President.
- Make yourself the center of attention: After Trump announced his candidacy, practically the whole world exploded. This explosion was the result of mainly two things he said during his speech:
.i) Mexicans bring drugs and crime into the US and are rapists
- ii) He will build a great wall and make Mexico pay for it.
By political standards of the day, these are seemingly outrageous things to say. Trump knew it, but he said it anyway. His plan was to get people and the media talking and talk they did, with most news channels mainly making fun of his run. I watched one commentator on CNN promise to eat his shoes on live TV if Trump ever won the nomination. While you may disagree with his words, he immediately became popular after the announcement because he said something outrageous that made him the center of attention.
- Focus on your biggest opponent first: Trump knew who his competition was. Even though there were 17 Republican candidates, he knew he really had only 4 or 5 real challengers. His strategy was to knock them out one after the other. He started with Jeb Bush who was leading the polls before he announced and whose family name gave him a greater likelihood of becoming the nominee. Trump humiliated Jeb so much that Jeb resorted to begin for applause before his 20-person crowds. When Jeb went down, Rubio showed up. Trump switched focus. Periodically, Ben Carson came up. Trump knocked him down too and finally faced his most stubborn challenger Ted Cruz. He did knock him out too and finally focused on the other party.
- Make use of free resources: Trump spent very little to become President. He equally raised very little money. Critics said his poor fundraising meant he was going to lose. He had other plans. When he announced, the media got ready to cover a comedy show. For them, that is good for their ratings. They therefore covered every Trump rally. He was covered more than all the other candidates combined. He was fun to watch and the occasional absurd things he said made for good TV. With the free coverage, he reached more people than the others. He equally made use of his huge twitter following which he had built as host of The Apprentice. By using such free resources at his disposal, he was able to reach more people and that ultimately got him elected.
- Do not make permanent friends or enemies: In every aspect of life, let your enemy only be the person preventing you from reaching your goal and your friend everyone else. There is no need making enemies who do not affect your destiny in any way. Trump showed us this when he made many people enemies during the campaign including both candidates and non-candidates. After the fierce battle with Ben Carson, Trump appointed him to his cabinet. After a war of words with Mitt Romney (Romney called him a phony and a fraud and Trump called him a loser who lost an election he could have won very easily), Trump considered appointing Romney his Secretary of State.
- Reward friendship and loyalty: Jeff Sessions was the first US Senator to endorse Trump, at a time when such an action was not very popular. After the elections, Trump named Sessions US Attorney general. He equally named many people who stuck with him through the campaign to top positions in US government. It is not always popular, but it is important to recognize those who stood by you and helped you get to where you are.
- Be yourself: One big lesson Trump taught us and still teaches us is that being oneself is better than pretending to be someone else. Not only does Trump speak his mind without fear of backlash, he uses language very easy to understand, master and remember. One example is his constant use of the word “tremendous”. Experts have examined Trump’s speech and concluded that he speaks at the understanding level of a 5th grade pupil. That makes him different from other politicians such as Obama who make long speeches with sophisticated words and sentences that no one will remember at the end of the day. Trump on the other hand delivers short and precise messages, uses repetition, low-grade words and a general presentation style that is relatable to even the most uneducated individuals (which by the way is a huge portion of the US voting population). In your speech, be simple rather than sophisticated and relate to your audience. Being yourself pays more as it is very easy to tell when someone is being fake like when Marco Rubio kept repeating the same things he had crammed at a debate. That contributed very much to him dropping out of the race.
- Apologize on your own terms and always get something in return: Now this is controversial. It is thought that apologizing every time someone feels offended at something you say or do is a great sign of humility. That is not always the case. Sometimes, people demand an apology not because they need it so badly but because they want to make you feel humiliated and give them a chance to brag about it. Trump faced the same situation. The peak of his political prominence came when he claimed Obama was born in Kenya and insisted he released his birth certificate. Obama finally did so and since then, there were calls for Trump to apologize. The calls resurfaced during the campaign and Trump was getting ready to inaugurate his new hotel in Washington DC. Knowing the media well, he sent word out that he would be making a big announcement and leaked information that he would apologize to Obama. The media came eager to face a humbled Trump and all news channels had the event live. Instead, Trump advertised his hotel for over 30 minutes free and at the end, stated in a few words “President Obama was born in America. Hillary Clinton started the birther theory, I finished it. Now it is time to make America great again.”
Following the event, all journalists and commentators were annoyed that Trump tricked them into covering his hotel event but the deed was already done.
While I don’t endorse his actions, wouldn’t it be cool to still win even after apologizing?
- Keep your word to the people who matter: While the media claims Trump has had no accomplishments as president so far, he is certainly fulfilling everything he promised the people who voted for him and that is what matters. The media and democrats’ standards are different, but he knows he is only responsible to those who put him there and that if he is to win again in 2020, he has to keep them happy. You can never please everyone. However, you must try to please those who put you where you are and keep the promises you made to them.