The Trump Effect

The inauguration of Donald Trump has led to a flurry of commentary, unease and fear. It’s hard to separate the truth from the spin. I’ve been reflecting on The Trump Effect – the arousal of people whose voices seem unheard. That’s how he got into power, and that is why there have been demonstrations as he takes control of the United States of America. Will the USA become the DSA (Divided States of America?)

This is my short reflection in comparing President Trump to an American leader who I’ve always considered as a personal role model. A few years ago I had the privilege of spending time with Frances Hesselbein. Frances served as the CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from 1976-1990. In 1998 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as “a pioneer for women, volunteerism, diversity and opportunity.” Frances has provided the world with a simple leadership philosophy: To serve is to live. This is about character and ethical behaviour.

Leadership is much less about what you do, and much more about who you are.

If you view leadership as a bag of manipulative tricks or charismatic behaviors to advance your own personal interests, then people have every right to be cynical. This cynicism has been demonstrated in marches around the world. It is about the importance of character, congruency and a commitment to listen.

When Frances was CEO of the Girl Guides she said “ If I’m a Navajo child on a reservation, a newly arrived Vietnamese child, or a young girl in rural Appalachia, I have been able to open [the Girl Scout handbook] and find myself there” she said. “That’s a very powerful message that ‘I’m not an outsider. I’m part of something big.”

In his inaugural speech, Donald Trump refers to the need for all voices to be heard and for power to be distributed as follows:

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer…

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

Yet as I looked at the signing in photos from Trump’s inauguration I was struck by the lack of diversity in the room and thought about Frances Hesselbein’s question:

For those who voted for Trump I guess the answer is yes? For those who did not the answer is no. One of the reasons is a lack of trust based on actions. I’ve reflected on this in comparing the words of Hesselbein and Trump. If Trump has any sense he will be off to see Frances Hesselbein tomorrow and listen to her centenarian wisdom. You can see some of her words of wisdom in the table below…

If we are to deal with our deepest differences we must first challenge our own assumptions, the narrowness of our thoughts and our deepest fears. How can we protect those we serve and still serve the greater good of humanity? The Trump Effect is ultimately about people wanting to have their needs met and not being able to find themselves in the rhetoric of power. In the end the feeling of disempowerment led to Trump’s election success. And to the disenfranchising of the melting pot of Americans who now see their needs being eroded, undervalued and ignored as a result of his election. Managing this polarity will require extraordinary leadership.

It would be easy to just focus on Trump, but the lack of trust in government is a growing trend and one that all our countries must take seriously. As a New Zealander I look at the lack of women on boards; the distribution of power and wealth; and the self satisfied view of race relations; and I think the gap in NZ is also widening. The dissatisfaction is growing. The Trump Effect is lurking in a place I call home. But right now all eyes are on the USA.

Reference: Hesselbein, F. (2002). Hesselbein on leadership. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

2 comments on “The Trump Effect
  1. Cheryl
    Thanks for the post. Leadership should never be about ego. I love and live by the concept of servant leadership and work hard to deliver that message to our own wonderful students. I think that most of our young people do actually ‘get it’.

    Nga mihi nui

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