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Is Trump Obama's Fault and What Leadership Lessons Can We Learn?

By understanding the conditions that led to the Trump phenomenon, we can glean important insights for our own leadership.

Jonny Bairstow batting for England in the 2023 Ashes against Australia

Picture credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

In our contemporary political world, one of the most startling developments in recent years was the emergence of Donald Trump as a political force. His presidency signalled a tectonic shift, one that left many scratching their heads.

So How Did Trump Emerge?

One could argue that the ground was laid during the era of Barack Obama, but the real question is - what can business leaders learn from this?

Trump's rise was a reaction to a perceived abandonment of the 'average' person by the liberal elite. The liberal push for progressive change, while admirable in many ways, failed to bring a significant segment of the population along. Instead of encouraging dialogue and debate, this push created a chasm between the 'liberal elite' and a vast group of people who felt unheard and marginalised.

This sense of abandonment and of feeling left behind under Obama’s two terms, which created the perfect opportunity for a figure like Trump. His unfiltered communication and audacious promises resonated with those who felt overlooked by mainstream politics. The situation was mirrored in the UK, resulting in the Brexit decision, driven by the same feelings of disenfranchisement and frustration.

Liberal leaders, be they in the US or UK, may have presented sound policies and championed progressive values, but they seemingly forgot a critical aspect of leadership: inclusive engagement. In their zealous pursuit of change, they lost sight of the diverse perspectives within their constituency and ignored the voices of those who disagreed. The result? An unintentional creation of a void, a divide that someone like Trump, with his unequivocal stance and brash rhetoric, could exploit.

What Does This Have To Do With Business Leadership?

A lot, actually; an organisation’s health can be measured by its ability to align around a common vision and achieve strategic goals, which are essential for long-term, sustainable business performance, and this can only be achieved if you create that inclusive culture where everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Though Leader Patrick Lencioni - round the table with Pat

In business, as in politics, successful leadership requires inclusive dialogue, effective communication, and ensuring that everyone feels heard and involved, a lesson is underscored by the teachings of Patrick Lencioni, renowned for his work on organisational health.

As leaders, we are advised to take everyone with us, to ensure all team members align with and understand the company's direction. We must engage in continuous communication and reinforce our message. If we neglect this, if we leave anyone behind, our organisations risk experiencing the same divisive results seen in our political sphere.

Yet, while businesses can select team members for their alignment with the company's values, politicians don't have this luxury. As a result, they face a more significant challenge in uniting diverse views and ideologies. However, this shouldn't serve as an excuse for political leaders to disregard and ignore a significant portion of the population.

Trump's presidency highlighted the consequences of divisive leadership, which can be as damaging in business as it is in politics. Just as businesses suffer when internal factions undermine collaboration and progress, so too does a nation when its citizens are polarised.

The divisive debates on issues like abortion and gun control in the US reflect a failure to create a dialogue that respects and considers all perspectives.

Similarly, when company values become a matter of 'us vs. them,' the potential for progress is stymied, and the culture becomes toxic.

Applying This to Business Leadership

An important lesson for business leaders from the political realm is the value of frank and open conversations. While Trump's abrasive communication style may be off-putting to some, his candidness is a trait that resonated with many.

In the end, it isn’t about agreeing with every viewpoint but acknowledging and engaging with them. In Trump’s case, many may not agree with his rhetoric or his methods, but his ability to appeal to those feeling disenfranchised and unheard is something we cannot ignore. This point reminds us of the importance of fostering dialogue within our organisations. We need to embrace awkward conversations and uncomfortable truths. We need to be willing to start conversations, even on contentious topics, and work towards finding a common ground.

In business and in politics, we are stronger when we pull together than when we pull apart. By fostering an inclusive culture, we ensure that our team members, our citizens, our human capital, are aligned and moving forward together. Through this collective effort, we can advance our vision, making significant strides in our industries and our societies.

By understanding the conditions that led to the Trump phenomenon, we can glean important insights for our own leadership. Let's ensure that no one in our organisations feels left behind. Let's foster a culture that values dialogue, inclusion, and mutual respect. Because when we do, we will be able to advance our collective goals and truly move forward.


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