If you feel like a depressing look at the underbelly of humanity then look no further than the comments posted on Fox News’s Facebook page – most of all its posts about Donald Trump.
‘You can say that Trump is a lousy presidential candidate, that’s your right,’ writes cowboy hat-sporting Jinx Clower, a former ‘gateman’ at a Texas rodeo. ‘Just don’t ever say he’s not effective.’
‘I like Trump! A man who speaks his mind!’ exclaims another. ‘Trumps (sic) not a debater,’ writes a third. ‘He shoots from the hip and tells it like it is.’
Of course Trump is by no means alone in deploying this strain of ‘straight-talking’, ‘powerful’, ‘effective’ leadership in recent years. Rodrigo Duterte, the Filipino president made famous by his encouragement of vigilante death squads, has attracted admirers for his own brand of to-the-point politics. You might not like his methods, his supporters argue, but you can’t argue with his results. And he might not be a bag of charisma, but Vladimir Putin’s ‘strength’ has won him admirers in the West.
It’s easy to see the attraction of these types of politicians, and why they could be held up by some as examples of good leadership. It’s true that many an incompetent leader hides behind flowery jargon and spin to look important. Those who go unscripted and ‘speak their mind’ can create a sense of authenticity that can feel like a breath of fresh air to those bored of slick shysters.
They also keep things simple. Sick of illegal immigrants? ‘BUILD A WALL!’. Struggling to keep control of street gangs and narcotics? ‘Round up and kill all the drug addicts.’ The more straightforward-sounding a solution, the easier it is to persuade the masses to get behind it (Vote Leave, Take Control being another obvious example).
And though Trump’s braggadocio may seem brash, intense self-belief can be infectious and convincing. Just look at Steve Jobs, whose refusal to compromise on his intentions was legendary. But unless you’re a one in a million visionary like Jobs (and in possession of the same luck he had too) then the real world isn’t going to bend to your will quite so readily.
This style of leadership would have gone down well in the Neolithic era, as weak cavemen gathered around their mouthiest, most ‘alpha male’ peer through fear of violent reprisals. But effective leadership in the modern age requires a greater deal of nuance, tact and delicacy.
Speaking your mind is great – but only if you actually know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the script. It helps you remain consistent. Trump keeps changing his mind and contradicting himself, which simply makes him look like a disorganised scatterbrain. And while clarity is important, ‘telling it like it is’ isn’t always a good idea. Announcing that you’re making layoffs because a group of your staff are ‘a waste of space and surplus to requirements’ isn’t going to go down well – even if it is true.
Good leaders also need to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and solutions are seldom simple. You need to appear confident in your ability to deal with the problems your organisation faces but acting like a superhero who can cure everybody’s ills is just setting yourself up for a fall.
Image source: Gage Skidmore