Donald Trump on management: not as dumb as you’d think

04 April 2016 -



Guest blogger Jermaine Haughton

On June 16, 2015, political analysts and commentators across the world scoffed when billionaire real estate mogul and TV star Donald Trump announced his campaign to be America’s next president.

Today, having secured the Republican support of 15 states (including Ohio and Florida, the home states of his nearest rivals John Kasich and Marco Rubio), he is the most heavily supported Republican in the race for the top job.

Trump has displayed substantial staying power and (not surprisingly) been a constant fixture in the headlines, talk shows and news programmes. Many observers are already weighing up his chances in a future actual presidential race.

How has Trump been so successful when all the odds seemed stacked against him? Despite the outrage he often provokes, are there lessons to be drawn from this extraordinary story?


The Apprentice star has been routinely criticised in the media and by other presidential candidates for his controversial statements about Mexicans, women and Muslims – to name just a few.

It would take a whole article to chronicle all his sometimes outrageous proposals and tweets from the past year. What’s perhaps most extraordinary is that, while the furore surrounding many of them would have destroyed almost any other Republican presidential candidate, with Trump they seem simply to acquire him more votes; the regular media furore has certainly failed to make him docile.

To his supporters, he conveys an anti-hero, rebellious image; to his critics, he shows defiance; to the media, he is a seemingly endless source of entertainment.

An imperviousness to criticism is clearly not a characteristic to be encouraged; arrogant managers will not go far. That said, all managers will need to acquire a certain resilience. Maintaining your self-belief and a belief in your team while your performance is being questioned can often be a valuable trait. After all, criticism is inevitable.


Trump has been able to stay in the race for the White House because of a naturally disruptive attitude and an unwillingness to conform to the typical etiquette of presidential candidates. This has brought an excitement (some may say, much-needed excitement) to American politics.

Record numbers of TV viewers tune into the Republican debates to hear him speak. At every debate, rally or interview, the world’s media are on tenterhooks wondering what he’s going to do next.

Even something as mundane as Trump pulling an amusing facial expression during the debates led to a series of online memes and talking points that keep commentators busy for days.

Alan Schroeder, professor at Northeastern University in Boston and author of Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV, says his unpredictability makes him a very difficult person to beat:

“Normally campaigns are pretty well able to strategise against their opponents because presidential candidates in the past have always behaved in a rational manner. With Trump as a total wild card, Hillary and her advisers will face a huge challenge devising a game plan.

“Much of Trump’s success so far has come from his refusal to play by the rules – so Hillary must be prepared for guerrilla warfare.”

There are many studies to show that businesses perform best when they have highly engaged employees. In 2002, the psychologists Harter, Schmidt and Hayes found that firms with more engaged employees have 51% higher productivity; a Towers Watson 2010 study found that companies with the most effective employee communication had 47% higher shareholder returns in the preceding five years.

Keeping supporters (and employees) interested and motivated, constantly giving them something new and fresh to think about and to throw their support behind, there are lessons in how Trump sustains his intrigue levels. Of course, a manager’s first priority is to behave with integrity and to be reliable; needless agitating won’t take you far. That said, there will be times when you must maintain motivation and excitement among your team.


Donald Trump has identified a growing frustration among many Americans who feel disenfranchised from politics; I am your advocate, he seems to say.

Conservatives who feel powerless – despite gaining control of the House of Representatives in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and the Senate in 2014 – are clearly responding to Trump’s promises to create jobs like ‘you’ve never seen’, and ‘make America great again.’

“He’s a successful man of conviction,” says Francis Eclane, a business manager from Columbus, Ohio, now living and working in London. “He believes in everything we’ve believed in for most of our lives and have been afraid to say — or if we did say it, we never had anybody listen to us.”

Gwenda Blair, author of The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate, has said: “Trump has figured out what American voters want to hear – not what they say they want to hear but what they really want to hear.

“He is telling voters that the United States is in terrible shape and is about to collapse but here is a strong leader who will take care of any enemies.”

There is something powerful about a leader who is clearly and unequivocally on your side. Many leaders try to shield their team from external criticism. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was one of many to foster a siege mentality among his squad.

Of course, no leader – not even a US president – can claim to have a solution to all the world’s problems. But hope is also a powerful force.

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