Trump, the Biggest Loser

By Larry McNeil, Executive Director, institute4change
July 27, 2017

My colleagues and I have worked with over 10,000 leaders and hundreds of organizations in our many decades of professional work around leadership and organizational development. When it comes to leading a big organization toward high performance, Trump is the worst we have ever seen.

Here’s why:

Every good leader has a solid moral center.  You can trust them because they are competent, consistent, and compassionate.

On the competency side, there has to be trust that the organization, department, division, etc. is doing the right thing, that the goals and strategies are important and achievable.  There must also be a sense that the way things are being done, the processes, procedures, and decision-making are in sync with what you say you are about. 

Consistency means a high degree of reliability, predictability, and accountability.  It means that one is not controlled by moods, anger, or other compulsive behavior, that the people around you will be respected and listened to, and that you can be counted on to put the needs of the organization, or the country, above your own, over and over again.   The rules, explicit and implicit, don’t change all the time.

Compassion is your deep awareness that “there’s people working here.”  They aren’t just functional categories: employees, staff, members, or department heads.  They are uniquely individual human beings, with hopes and dreams, talents and limits, and pains and disappointments.

Trump has no moral center.  He lies continuously and spends an inordinate amount of time obfuscating, changing the subject, attacking the innocent, telling another lie, to take attention away from his earlier lies. Self-absorbed and narcissistic, changing on a whim, he is neither competent, consistent, nor compassionate.


Good leaders design jobs for the people in their organizations based on the principle constantly repeated by my wise colleague, Dr. Michael McGrath: “the right person in the right job at the right time.” 

In contrast, Trump hires based on one principle: loyalty/fealty to him.  Incoherence, inexperience, lack of knowledge, or inability to work with others doesn’t matter.


Good leaders back up members of their team, dealing with performance issues directly, but not publically. They help their subordinates do well.  They plot and plan and talk and challenge and support constantly, trying to bring out the best in each person.

Trump rewards his early supporters and appointees with public ridicule and public humiliation.  I don’t like Jeff Sessions (In fact, I hate Jeff Sessions, a man who wants to bring back harsh penalties for minor drug offenses, continuing the voter suppression of black men that has long characterized Session’s home state), nor do I agree with him on almost anything else, but Sessions gave up a Senate seat to become Trump’s Attorney General.  His reward: constant derision and blame for taking an ethical stance, recusing himself from any investigation about Russian interference in our election.

Look how he set the supportive stage for Tom Price, his own Secretary of Health and Human Services, saying he had better get the health bill passed or “I’ll say: ‘Tom, you’re fired.’  I’ll get somebody.”  Beyond stupid, this is cruel and absolutely unproductive.  It does not bring out the best in anyone. 

Good leaders (and almost all mature people) let go of things in the past as they use everything at their disposal to figure out their organization’s future.

Trump can’t let anything go.  Old perceived slights and wounds fester, e.g. Hillary really didn’t win the popular vote; he did.  “Massive voter fraud.”


Good leaders, who Jim Collins calls 5th Level leaders, don’t have to always be in charge.  In fact, if you walked into a room with the top leader sitting among organizational subordinates, you most likely wouldn’t know who the top leader was.  He or she would be delighted that others are taking charge, making decisions, leading.

Trump wants to dominate every discussion, every meeting, every news cycle.  Most Americans were not surprised that he shoved himself to the front when meeting with other world leaders.  He has never gotten beyond the school-yard chant: “me first!”  Trump hates international organizations that require mutual respect for other countries and other leaders, e.g. NATO, the Paris Climate Accords.


Good leaders don’t hire family members.  Family and government operate by different rules.  Family, in all its permutations, it our basic institution for a private life.  It requires loyalty, often to family members you don’t even like.  Government, businesses, non-profits, etc. work best with objective goals, tested yet flexible strategies, ruthless accountability, no favoritism.  Our public work requires public standards of performance.  It is teleological, for a goal.  Our private work is to love our families.  It is ontological, for itself.

Trump really only trusts his immediate family.  Everyone else is part of his expendable private court.  As a result, he has turned the highest office in the most powerful country in the world into a kleptocracy, using public funds to shamelessly build the Trump brand and to enrich himself and his family.


Most leaders are smart.  They aren’t necessarily as smart as Stephen Hawking or Madam Curie or Dr. Martin Luther King, but they usually have the ability to deal with nuance, to understand and appreciate competing ideas, to know how government and organizations works, to make clear judgments out of a myriad of ideas and competing pressures. They have high degrees of innate intelligence coupled with some formal education (which introduces them to things they don’t know from direct experience).

One of the characteristics of smart people who know a lot is that they realize what they don’t know.  They seek out others.

Trump is not smart.  His vocabulary as well as his conceptual ability is limited, closer to a 12-year old than an adult (e.g. “like”, “sad”, “wrong”, “people say”, “very weak”).  His understanding of government is almost non-existent. He knows no history.  His primary source of public expression is a Tweet.  He may not even be able to write paragraphs or prepare an argument.  His major source of ideas is FOX News or the last person he talked to, hardly reliable funnels of objective truth.  (To have the whole apparatus of the Federal government at your disposal, and you still rely on FOX News as your major source of news ….!)


Good leaders know that what got them where they are is not likely to get them to where they want to go next.  In fact, it will most likely be in the way as they adjust to new realities.

Trump knows how to be the star of The Apprentice. That Manichaean kind of thumbs up/thumbs down, “you’re fired” practice is about as far from the qualities needed to be the President of the United States as my high school “band” was from playing with the Rolling Stones.  That screeching sound coming from the White House or Mar-a-Lago is that of a man imminently unqualified to lead us anywhere.  If he were a CEO of a company he didn’t own, he would be fired.  If he were a Boy Scout leader, he would be fired.