Donald Trump Management Style: Top-Down Leadership

Donald Trump management style: Leadership comes from the top-down…

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Having worked as an executive in three Fortune 100, and one Fortune 500 corporation, I have not only seen the benefits, (or consequences), of the decisions made by some high powered leaders, but lived them as part of a daily routine. I have also worked as a Section Chief, and Specialist in the Public Sector, which gave me exposure to leadership styles from a different viewpoint.

Over the past few years, it almost seemed like the common response from more than a few public sector managers were statements like “I have 100,000 employees under me, I can’t know what all of them are doing”, or “I can’t be responsible for what they’re doing.” The statements should stand out and be alarming to anyone listening because, despite one’s tendency to think it might be a plausible statement, in reality it is a significant insight into the individual’s leadership style, or more importantly, a lack thereof.

Good leaders will clearly identify goals and missions of the organization, while simultaneously communicating expectations for every participant and stakeholder involved. They will not tolerate insubordination. It is called Top Down management. Employees know where the company is going and why, and they know what is expected of them.

From the article “10 Principles of Strategic Leadership” by Jessica Leitch Dave Lancefield, and Mark Dawson in 2016, the top two principles in order are: 1) Distribute responsibility and 2) Be open and honest about information. These principles are central in Top Down management because they work to ensure that everyone is working toward common goals.

Destined to Fail

Alternatively, and not surprisingly, factors which have been known to contribute to corporate failures are: lack of transparency, not listening, poor communication of strategy, and blaming others. Any time someone assigns blame for a particular problem, it should send up warning signals because it shows a lack of any real desire to fix the root problem. Good top down managers assume responsibility for whatever the problem is, (unless of course it was deliberate sabotage). The idea behind this is that the executive is the one who should have anticipated the problem, and taken steps to guard against it. Some examples are things like quality control, health and safety, and public communications.

Causal Autopsy

Good top down managers will communicate broad messages so that employees know how to find and fix a problem when it happens, and more importantly to take steps before a problem happens. When things do not go right, a good manager assumes responsibility and keeps the focus where it belongs. Instead of assigning blame for a problem, the main focus should be on doing an autopsy of the event or events (i.e. truck crash, low customer service ratings, poor quality finished products, etc) to determine: a) Why it happened or is happening? b) What do we need to do to fix it right now? c) What do we need to do to fix it so it never happens again? and d) Are there any other areas of our business that are having the same problems or will have them?

Principles Applied

Anyone remember this infamous line – “What difference, at this point, does it make?” There are generally two aspects where a question like this would apply. In one instance, it shows the value of a true leader while in another it shows exactly what the leader is lacking — backbone and competence.

Let us say for instance a company has to deal with the consequences of a bad decision, like buying a lower quality material from an unapproved vendor, that was clearly against policy. When the governing group gets together, reviews ALL pertinent facts, and points to someone who ignored policy, instead of saying “Okay, it’s clear what happened, case closed.” they may keep on and on about it, showing the infamous line above is a good one as it serves to put an end to unproductive dialogue.

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Alternatively, let us say that someone’s poor decision-making led to a major problem that led to someone’s death, and there are many facts, yet to be discovered. Before all of the facts are known, the person who made the deadly decision is the one saying the infamous line. In that case, the question is actually a smokescreen, which should cause the people investigating the events to dig much deeper.

Leadership Examples

Any time a leader, whether a public official or private sector manager, does not consider herself or himself to be the responsible party, especially in times of adversity, he or she should be viewed with disfavor and skepticism. The reasoning is that if they were a true leader, then each employee under them would know what is personally required, and the leader would have the confidence that work was being performed accordingly.

On the flip side of that, be wary of leaders who claim credit for work done by others. Let us use building a house as an example. The customer tells the leader they want a one story, white house with two bedrooms. The leader says to the crew, “Hey, you all know how to build a house, so go out and build one for this customer.” The crew, not daring to challenge the leader for details, proceeds to build a two story, blue house. It is the leader’s fault for not telling the crew what the client wanted.

To take it a step further, let us say the leader communicated very clearly what the customer wanted, and the crew built it exactly that way. When the customer comes to say thank you, the leader says, “I’m the reason this house got built the way you wanted it.” The leader is completely ignoring all of the individual work done by others that went into the finished product.

Good managers remember to thank and reward their employees for doing a good job because they recognize the employees’ value. Better managers make sure to clearly state where the company is going, and why, so that the employees can get on the same path as the company. Once that happens, the way is not only paved for goal achievement, it also opens up many opportunities to exceed expectations for those employees who want to go above and beyond. In order to deliver good leadership, one has to be a good leader.

What Makes Donald Trump a Good Leader

Business principles of leadership can be applied to all sectors of life. For example, it can be beneficial to family life, team sports, politics, and more. It is certainly clear that MAGA supporters notice it when President Trump, arriving at a rally, clapping, points to the crowd, outstretches his hands in all directions, and says words such as “thank you. You are the ones that got us elected. We did this.” Trump is a remarkable leader! He always refers to work he has done as ‘our’ work. He recognizes us, the people he works for. He gives us a say. “We, the people”…..have our country back.

Ted Beagleman
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