MANAGEMENT STYLE: Campaigning is One Thing; Leading is Another, CEOs Say

GettyImages-646318740-compressorOf all the things mid-market company chiefs would like to see President Trump do, their biggest wish for the “CEO-in-Chief” might be the most difficult for him to ever accomplish: change his management style.

Just a month into his term, Donald Trump’s presidential demeanor had become a leadership case study for the ages: often bullying, bombastic and bilious; by turns he could also be charming, diplomatic and even taciturn. Whatever his approach, however, President Trump simply wasn’t effective right out of the gate. And for CEOs of any political stripe who wanted to see the new leader enact some steps that would truly help business and fuel the economy, nothing was more frustrating than inconsistency and amateurism emanating from the Oval Office.

“The way you get elected isn’t the way you need to run the office,” said Nick Turner, co-CEO of Kaye/Bassman, a management-recruiting firm. “The shock-and-awe tactic is brilliant in appealing to the masses, but once you’re there—when in Rome…

“I’d advise him to re-evaluate and take on a new plan for running things. The reality is that if he’d just dial it down, he’s got plenty of runway ahead of him. While I’m sure the first 100 days in office is an important window in time, he should [try] an alternative [approach]. He can still be effective and drive the things he wants to get done, but he doesn’t get to it in the way in which he was elected.”

“IF HE’D JUST DIAL IT DOWN, HE’S GOT PLENTY OF RUNWAY AHEAD OF HIM.”

Added Harley Lippman, CEO of tech-staffing firm Genesis, “By doing things in a very confrontational and direct way, he’s unpredictable. He likes surprise. But that will come back to haunt him. That will get in the way of his success.”

Instead of ping-ponging from one secondary issue to another, these executives believe that President Trump should quickly lay out some markers on top issues of concern to business. “What do his proposed tax changes look like, at least in bullet points, and also trade policies with our biggest partners?” asked John Berger, CEO of the solar energy equipment maker Sunnova.

In his single biggest snafu so far, the execution of the proposed immigration ban, “He was making cardinal mistakes for a CEO: ignoring data and getting wrapped up in things that he is weak in,” noted Stephen Wakeling, CEO of wireless-tech outfit Phobio. “No one thought Trump would be strong on foreign policy out of the gate.”

One way Trump might help turn the tide, advised Tritium Partners CEO Jason Hogg, would be by holding a series of CEO summits by sector to get “direct feedback on three prioritized topics: taxes, regulation and R&D activity.” The meetings should place special emphasis on growth inhibitors for the largest companies, added the private-equity CEO. “From these summits, a milestone-based action plan should be developed and implemented.”

Lippman, who supported Hillary Clinton for president, nevertheless looks for Trump to succeed. “He’s a smart guy, so hopefully he’ll learn quickly,” he said. “There are other ways of doing things: You can reach out and communicate, explain your polices, build consensus. If he does things in an inclusive way, he’ll accomplish so much more.”

But it isn’t clear Trump ever could govern that way. “He’s sticking to his guns,” Wakeling noted. “He’s fighting a difficult fight. The only thing worse than losing a battle for a day is fighting it for 10 years. Sometimes, as a CEO, you have to say, ‘This isn’t working.’”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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