Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Donald Trump's leadership style in five words

The US real estate mogul and Presidential hopeful exemplifies the charismatic leader, which is not necessarily a good thing.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 Mar 2016

President ‘The Donald’ Trump. You’d better get used to hearing that. The outspoken property tycoon has built a commanding lead in the race for the Republican nomination since Super Tuesday. If you’re the betting type, you can get odds of 9:4 that he will be next president of the United States.

With 2,000 active nuclear warheads potentially at the tip of his fingers, it would certainly give new meaning to his catchphrase ‘You’re Fired’ (much aped by his clearly far less presidential UK counterpart Lord ‘Sralan’ Sugar).

The recipe for Trump’s success in the polls is the same one that brought him his billions in the business world. He typifies charismatic leadership, where force of personality is more important than collaboration or cold reasoning (other examples of charismatic leaders include Martin Luther King, GE’s Jack Welch and, somewhat more ominously, Adolf Hitler).

If you’d like to emulate Trump’s success in your place of work, here are a few essential ingredients to get you started.


Loser. Dummy. Jerk. Such words are frequently heard from the mouth of Trump or, at least, his Twitter handle. The Donald takes no prisoners, which judging by the following Tweet from last year is probably a good thing.

Never is this aggressive mindset more pronounced than when Trump perceives a personal attack, as demonstrated by his public spat with TV personality Rosie O’Donnell. ‘When somebody challenges you, fight back,’ Trump once said. ‘Be brutal, be tough’.  


One of Trump’s most common boasts is that he’s a great deal-maker. It’s true that it would be hard to flourish in the world of US commercial real estate without having a talent for negotiation. While Trump is by all accounts persuasive as most charismatic leaders are, he combines that with his aggression and audacity to particularly great effect.

A good example is when some of his businesses filed for bankruptcy in the early 90s. Rather than cave in to the banks who had lent the money, he held his nerve and avoided personal bankruptcy by convincing them to lend him even more money so he could later pay them back. ‘I figured it was the bank's problem, not mine. What the hell did I care? I actually told one bank, "I told you you shouldn't have loaned me that money. I told you the goddamn deal was no good".'


You don’t get to be a billionaire – something Trump reminds us that he is with great frequency – without having a spot of ambition. ‘As long as you are going to be thinking anyway, think big,’ Trump has said. It was what led him to leave the real estate empire his father built in the outer boroughs of New York for the big stakes of Manhattan, and indeed what’s led him on his quest for the Presidency. It doesn't get much bigger than that. 


There are limits to even Trump’s ambition of course. Back in 1999, he promised that if he did become US President, he wouldn’t rename the White House. That would be a first. Virtually everything else Trump owns or makes has his name on it –Trump Tower, Trump Palace, Donald Trump Success aftershave. It’s tempting to think this is mere ego, but like many successful charismatic leaders, Trump is conscious of the power of personality. His personal branding is clearly very strong – everyone knows who he is, and everyone has an opinion about him. As he once put it, ‘if your business is not a brand it’s a commodity.’


Realistically, very few people could attain as enigmatic a bouffant as The Donald’s. But beneath the hair, there’s power. Trump has had the same bizarro mop for thirty years. He refuses to change it just because it’s weird and easily ridiculed.

Self-confidence like that is tangible and a key reason why his brand is so strong. It’s why as a politician Trump has been able to shrug off all the outrageous comments about women, Muslims and Mexicans, and why as businessperson he was able to bounce back from financial difficulties unblemished. He may care what people say (see ‘aggression’ above), but he won’t ever be swayed by it.

‘The final key to the way I promote is bravado,’ he wrote in his 1987 book Trump: The Art of The Deal.  ‘I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts.’


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