Trump: Lessons for leaders

Love him or loathe him, one incontestable fact about Mr. Donald Trump, United States of America’s president-elect who defeated Mrs Hilary Clinton in the presidential election held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, is that he is a man who knows what he wants and goes all out to get it. People may have issues with his conduct and utterances, but the likelihood of convergence of opinions on Trump being goal-oriented is high. He was not given much chance of winning his party’s nomination, but he did. He was said not to stand any chance of defeating Mrs Clinton, who is a veteran in Washington politics, but he defied the odds and beat her to the White House. These feats show that there is more to Trump than clumsy conduct and ugly utterances. He is apparently a man of strategy.

There are a few things that a leader with his eyes on the goal can learn from him.


Define what you want

Right from the outset, Mr Trump knew what he wanted and left no one in doubt about his quest. He wanted the presidency and was determined to go the whole hog to get it. He did not want to be named among those who just contested the party’s nomination; he did not want to be an also ran; he wanted to win the presidency and he worked at it right from the commencement of the campaigns.

Before this attempt that gave him both the party’s nomination as well as the presidency, Trump had made attempts before but when he saw the way things were going then, he withdrew. But this time, he decided not only to try his hand but made up his mind to get the presidency.

In the beginning of the contest for the party’s nomination, he was not taken seriously by a number of the party hierarchy, who thought he had returned with his pranks. But they were later proved wrong when he won the party’s nomination against all odds. He also shocked a wide range of people and organizations across the globe when he won the presidential election.

To accomplish any task, it has to be defined. No one can identify what is not defined; and nobody can achieve what is not identified.


Identify your market

This is probably the most strategic move made by Mr Trump. He used statistics to advantage. He knew that White voters constituted about 70 per cent of the electorate in the 2012 elections, so he reasoned that if he was going to win the election, it would be with the votes of the Whites. So, he went for the Whites. He did not go after other segments of the electorate because he knew that his competitor, Hilary Clinton, was already making appeals to the generality of the electorate and he stood little chance of beating her at that. So, he targeted the Whites and appealed to their sensibilities. He never wavered; he stuck to his gut and gun till the very end. And it paid off eventually.

Very few players can operate successfully in the general market. Every organization that will go far must carve a niche for itself by identifying the segment of the market which it is best suited to serve. That is the power of focus. With unshifting focus, almost anything can be accomplished. Leaders must focus on the most important thing in their calling to go far in their mission; those who keep shifting hardly ever make any lasting impact.


Tailor-made message for the identified market

Mr Trump said what the White voters wanted to hear.

The Whites were concerned about jobs because they believed that the immigrants were taking the jobs that they ought to have. So, Trump assured them that they were going to have jobs.

The whites were worried about the influx of immigrants from Syria and other places into their country. So, Trump told them that his administration would stop Syrian immigrants and Muslims from flocking into the country.

The Whites were bothered that the Establishment people in Washington were only concerned about themselves and not the people of the country. Trump promised to change the order.

Donald Trump took his time to know what the people with the electoral power wanted and he said that to them with such conviction that it was difficult to doubt his sincerity.

Leaders must not only know what the people want to hear but must also learn how to present what they wish to hear to them in a way that will ensure buy in. This is what Aristotle called pathos in his three elements of persuasion. Pathos is the meeting of the minds between the speaker and the audience. Where pathos holds sway, facts and figures are secondary. What is of primary concern to the audience is a connection of minds and an agreement of souls. The message must resonate with the audience for there to be a communion of minds. Mr Trump was able to achieve that and it worked in his favour because not only did he know what the people wanted to hear, he was passionate about his communication of this to them. So, it was difficult for the target audience not to buy what he was pushing to them.


Avoid wrong assumptions

Donald Trump will be the first American president who never served in the military or public service before winning election to the White House. His lack of experience in government was one of the issues raised against him. The Establishment people were of the belief that there was no way he could win the election because of his lack of experience. With that, if he had thrown in the towel at any stage of the process, it would have been understood. But he did no such thing. Instead of that, he went into the campaign with the belief that there would always be a first time for anything to happen. He never assumed that the electorate would not vote for him for his lack of experience.

In the same vein, he never assumed that the White electorate would give him their votes just because he was saying what they wished to hear. He visited all the swing and other states as many times as possible just to be sure that he got what he wanted.

Leaders must avoid being presumptuous but work assiduously as if things would go awry even when they have cause to believe that events would turn out in their favour. Murphy’s Law which states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong should always guide leaders.


Anticipate downturns and plan defence

Mr Trump was a man with a huge baggage, going into the campaign and the election. He had no doubt that there would be dust raised over those issues and he planned ahead to handle them in the best way possible. He never allowed those issues to get him off track. He was accused of not making his tax details public and he was ready with his defence. He told Mrs Clinton that it was the laws made by her party that gave him such latitude.

One of the responsibilities leaders are saddled with is to see problems and challenges ahead of others and find a way to circumvent them. A leader that is worth the title does not wait for problems to arise before running helter-skelter to solve them. Most great leaders plan for the worst while hoping for the best. They do not allow themselves to be caught off guard so they always arm themselves with all kinds of scenario which ensure that they have a defence ready against any untoward turn of events.


Choose your fight

Trump was smart enough to know that he could not win all fights, so he chose the ones he fought. When the news of his unsavoury statement about women broke, he knew that it was a battle he could not win. He did not defend himself; he owned up to it and apologized to the country. But during the last debate, he turned the heat on Hilary Clinton who wanted to capitalize on that development to nail him. Instead of allowing Clinton to hem him in, he swiftly swerved the discourse to the issue of the Clinton’s email. With that, Clinton was put on the defensive.

Leaders must know when to admit their inability and cut their losses to avoid getting sucked into the sunk cost fallacy. A wise leader knows that it is impossible to win all battles. So, he chooses to fight only those he is positioned to win.


Be courageous enough to challenge status quo

Those who challenge status quo are the ones who make history. Mr Trump’s electoral success has made him a record breaker in many respects. Apart from being the first elected president without military or public service background, he is also a first term president that will be over 70 years old. It is also on record that the leadership of his party was not with him, so he was more or less an independent candidate though he ran on the platform of the Republican Party. In spite of all these, he won. He won because he dared to challenge the status quo. If he had not contested, he would never have known whether he could win or not. Leaders are courageous people, not because they are without fears but because they do not allow their fears to clip their dreams.