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Trump’s Leadership Style—Honed as a CEO

As an industry expert who has met the man behind the proverbial curtain, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is saying we shouldn’t be too quick judge.

GettyImages-606206092-compressorWith Hillary Clinton winning over 2 million votes more than Donald Trump, added to his flamboyant style and lack of public service experience, many are worried about this unparalleled White House transition.

I have studied leadership succession for 40 years and this first CEO to become commander in chief has many worried about the president-elect’s readiness and temperament. We’ve worried before. Anticipating General Dwight Eisenhower’s election, President Harry Truman warned, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

However, Eisenhower did well in the transition and so may President-elect Trump.

“Despite Trump’s bravado and grandiosity, there is an authenticity about him.

I have gotten to know Trump over the past dozen years and have spoken with him over the past year about what, as a business leader, he brings to this position. The qualifications and strengths he laid out for me were:

  • Problem-framing and communication—expressing complex concepts in simple language
  • Negotiation expertise—taking tough, informed positions and winning with them
  • Strategic clarity and focus—snagging the big picture issues and eschewing technical details
  • Metrics of accomplishment—providing accountable results: money, participation, growth
  • Plainspoken, direct talk with vivid imagery—drawing in new audiences
  • Spotting talent for staffing leadership—casting a broad net in Cabinet searches
  • Resilience and overcoming adversity—never giving up

In person, Trump has a disarming personality with a surprisingly accessible style. Despite the bravado and grandiosity, there is an authenticity about him. Most of his business team has been with him for their full careers, and he knows them all well. He is eager to make an impression on new constituents and anxious for feedback. While highly sensitive to criticism, he still listens and seeks challenges.

About Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is senior associate dean, leadership studies, Lester Crown professor of leadership practice, Yale School of Management, as well as president of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute and author of The Hero’s Farewell and Firing Back.