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Kelly Odell

- A blog for leaders
leadership analysis of trump and hillary
25 Oct 2016

The Battle of Leadership styles: Trump vs. Clinton

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What kind of leader will the next president be?

When I wrote my leadership book “The Human Way-The Ten Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders” I had two main intentions for the book. The first was to help people become better leaders. The second was to help people better understand their managers and hopefully adapt their expectations to be more realistic. At the moment the citizens of the USA are in the final stages of choosing a new leader. The President of the United States is certainly one of the most powerful management positions in the world. The effects of a good or bad president can impact the entire world. I thought it might be interesting to analyze the two main candidates based on the premises presented in my book “The Human Way – The Ten Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders”.

Before we begin we have to clarify a few things, the first of which is that I have no personal knowledge of either candidate so all of my analysis will be based on information and impressions gained from reading things written about them or by them, or by watching them on TV. This means that my analysis is based more on my interpretation of a very public side of these individuals. So we have to keep in mind that I am analyzing a version of each candidate that is at least partly fictional. These fictional people are the results of the candidates’ supporters and opponent’s efforts to create certain illusions about both candidates. It is fair to say that each candidate’s organization attempts to present their own candidate as favorably as possible while highlighting potential weaknesses with the opposing candidate. We can use these fictional pictures of the candidates as a way of discussing and understanding various leadership behaviors but we have to acknowledge that the conclusions we draw may not be accurate for the “real” person behind the public images of the candidates.

The second qualification I need to make is that I have not exerted much effort to hide my own political views. I have a clear preference in this election but as I carried out this analysis it became clearer to me that both candidates have clear strengths as leaders, as well as some significant challenges. While my intent with this article is not primarily political it may still play some small role in the political arena by helping voters understand the leadership styles of the candidates.

In my book “The Human Way” I present Ten Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders. These commandments are not really commandments in the normal sense of the word, they are rather principles that good leaders should internalize and live by in order to be successful as leaders. In the table below I have given each candidate a score between 0 and 10 (0 is worst and 10 is best) on how well they appear to embody and follow each of these principles. Following the ranking table, you will find a brief explanation for each ranking.





 1. Be humble. Remember a good leader is also a good follower.

These two commandments deal with a leader’s perceptions of themselves and of the people they will lead. It is the nature of a political campaign that the candidates are forced to promote themselves. This in itself can make it difficult to judge the real humility of a candidate. That said, it is clear that Donald Trump struggles with humility more than Hillary Clinton.

If you haven’t had the chance to see Mr. Trump in action, here are just a few of very many quotes from Trump that give a flavor for his approach to humility.

“My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”

“Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money.” (this is an actual Trump quote where he talks about himself in the third person)

“People love me. And you know what, I have been very successful. Everybody loves me.”

And to be fair I feel obligated to post what quotes I could find that indicate Hillary’s humility or lack thereof. Oddly enough there just aren’t many quotes where Hillary talks about herself, where she isn’t explaining her political views on an issue but I did find a couple.

People can judge me for what I’ve done. And I think when somebody’s out in the public eye, that’s what they do. So I’m fully comfortable with who I am, what I stand for, and what I’ve always stood for.”

“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.


Donald expresses a belief that he is in some way special. That for various reasons, money, personality or talent, he holds a special place in society.


Hillary on the other hand either deals with her “public opinion” in a formal way asking to be judge by her deeds or she chooses to use wit or sarcasm. I have no doubt that Hillary has a high opinion of herself and her abilities but she seems to be aware that she is only one person who needs the help of many others to succeed.

After watching numerous speeches by both candidates as well as both presidential debates I have seen a clear pattern.


Donald typically talks about what “he” will do if elected. The basic form of his speeches is that “they” have messed things up and “he” will fix it. He will build a wall, he will bring jobs back to the US, and he will make America great again and so on.


Hillary more often uses the “we” formulation. Hillary expresses what we can achieve together or how we will fix various problems.

So why is humility so important? Don’t we want leaders who have good self-confidence? First of all, most of us enjoy being around people who don’t take up all the air in a room. Being humble does not mean that you undervalue your own contribution, it means that you also place a high value on the contributions of others. But the answer to these questions goes even deeper. Large organizations, and certainly countries are so complex that no one person can analyze, prioritize and resolve all the various challenges they face. Leaders who rely too much on their own ability tend to miss important input from other competent people. In some cases, this may occur because they simply don’t think to ask for input. In other cases, input of others may actively be ignored, especially when this input deviates from the leader’s point of view. These leaders create a “yes-man” culture. People either swallow their prides and keep their mouths shut or they go somewhere else. Leaders who lack humility believe their job is to make wise decisions and it is the role of their people to execute these decisions.


Ultimately, Trump’s lack of humility alienates people, reducing engagement, and it leads to poorer quality decisions and poorer execution of these decisions. Organizations led by leaders like Trump tend to sweep mistakes under the carpet or look for scapegoats (Trump has demonstrated both of these behaviors during the campaign. For example, blaming a faulty microphone and a bad moderator for his poor performance in the first presidential debate) 


Leaders, like Hillary, who understand their own limitations and truly value the abilities of others, tend to increase engagement by getting people involved and letting them make a difference. Their organizations achieve better results by making fewer mistakes and by learning from the mistakes they do make.


2. Dare to delegate. As the boss you are expected to lead, not have the answer to every question.

A Presidential campaign is a very large and complicated project that spans over several years, involves very many people and requires a great deal of money. No one person alone can manage all this complexity, so the campaign itself might be a good way to evaluate the candidate’s ability to delegate.


Good delegators are clear about their expectations and the boundaries of the task, but within those boundaries they leave as much room as possible for individual initiative. Good delegators, delegate and let go, but they are always available along the way to coach the ongoing work, but primarily at the specific request of those who were given the responsibility.

The reality is that many leaders struggle with delegation. Being a bad delegator can take three primary forms.

  • The non-delegator who simply doesn’t delegate. Non-delegators find it easier just to do it all themselves.
  • The delegating hangman has no problem delegating a task but if things don’t work out the way the manager thinks they should, you had better watch out. Unfortunately, the delegating hangman is often unclear about what they really want and somehow expect their subordinates to read their minds, making success even more difficult. And what if things do work out right? The delegating hangman might give you a pat on the back but all too often they will take full credit for the results, after all, they were the ones who were smart enough to delegate to you!
  • The delegating micromanager will delegate to their subordinates but then never really let go. They generally drive their organizations crazy by getting involved in every minor detail along the way.


Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Donald is a notorious delegating hangman. His ambitions are so large that he is forced to rely on other people to get everything done, but he is often very unclear about what he expects to be done. Sooner or later everyone messes up, either by not understanding Trump’s will or simply by not succeeding with whatever goal they were given. When that happens Donald is a no excuses kind of guy. There are no extenuating circumstances and no chance that he will accept any blame for the failure. In researching this article, I viewed several old episodes of Trump’s TV program The Apprentice. Sometimes, the assignments the apprentices were given were ridiculous, humiliating and dehumanizing, and if they failed Donald seemed to revel in firing them.

The same trend has been seen in his campaign organization as a string of experts have served on his campaign only to resign or get fired under more or less dramatic circumstances. Typical for the delegating hangman, Trump is notoriously bad at taking instructions from experts he has hired to advise him.


A katz / shutterstock

A katz / shutterstock

Like Trump, Hillary is ambitious and to realize her ambitions she is forced to delegate a great deal of work. There is a great deal of evidence that Hillary is a good delegator. She is demanding but fair. People who have worked with her say she is warm, friendly and considerate. She works long hard hours but can take time to call an employee who has lost a grandparent. If she has any blemishes as a delegator it would be that she might occasionally have a tendency towards the delegating micromanager. There are few people in her staff that are more up to date or better prepared that Hillary. She has lived the bulk of her adult life in the political arena and understands it well. As is often the case with expert managers, Hillary might sometimes fall into the trap of delegating and then being a little too involved in the day to day.



3. Keep your freedom. Never get into an economic situation where you can’t afford to tell the company to go to hell.

My assumption is that neither candidate is running for President for the money. Both candidates have the financial circumstances to live well without the job of President on their résumé.


4. Learn to handle risks. You have to risk your job to do your job. Losing your job isn’t the worst that could happen, it can often be the best.

There is no doubt that leaders of large organizations must learn to handle risks. As president of the USA these risks often involve actual life and death decisions. In my work with managers I often find myself encouraging them to take more risks. In the case of the presidential candidates neither of the candidates appear to be lacking in their willingness to tackle risk.


Hillary has often been confronted with difficult challenges in her political career and has taken significant risks. The results of some of these risks has on occasion led to significant criticism by her opponents.


Donald has no political experience and therefore no evidence of his ability to manage the risks involved in leading a country, but his business career demonstrates a definite willingness to take risks. The list of his business failures is long, but his successes appear to have created significant wealth for him. Each of these successes and failures incorporated a level of risk. The problem with Donald is that he may well be too willing to take risks.

I usually point out that there is a difference between taking calculated risks and being stupid. Leaders should encourage their organizations to take risks but these risks should be analyzed, evaluated and not taken lightly. If we relate this “commandment” about taking risks with the first commandment of being humble it is likely that a leader like Trump will make decisions primarily based on his own analysis and fail to clearly understand all the risks and ramifications of his decisions. Since Donald has no previous experience in politics, he would likely need more support in his decision making than someone with much longer experience. The fact that he is prone to taking significant risks based primarily, if not solely, on his own understanding, should result in a higher level of failure than a more experienced political leader with the same lack of humility.


A leader like Hillary with both long experience and a greater tendency to involve other people in the decision making process should be much more successful in managing risks than Trump.


5. Deliver real results. Don’t worry about organizational politics. In the long term it’s the results that count.

Both candidates argue that they have demonstrated their ability to deliver results. Hillary puts forth her record of political contributions. Depending on your political preferences you may think that her achievements are good or bad but she does have an impressive list of accomplishments. Donald’s list of achievements has been accumulated through a life-time in business and entertainment. Like with Hillary’s accomplishments, each of us can draw our own conclusions about whether Donald’s accomplishments have been good or bad, but they are numerous.

These are two people who are driven to achieve. They both want to be remembered for their accomplishments. The first question each of us has to ask ourselves is how do these candidates goals align with my own political views and interests. The second question is how successful they will be at achieving these goals. The above analysis causes me to believe that Hillary will be more successful in achieving her political ambitions than Donald.


6. Inspire others. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, go do something you are passionate about.

Now we come to one of the commandments that is not so cut and dried.


The simple fact is Donald Trump has successfully inspired a great many voters in the USA. There is no doubt that he has a strong supporter base that gave him the Republican nomination.


Hillary also has a strong supporter base and by my humble estimation this base should carry her to the White House. But Hillary is not popular with everyone and many of her supporters criticize her lack of ability to inspire.


If you listen less to what the candidates say and more to how they say it, you find that Donald is an excellent communicator in many ways. His language is simple but effective. He is both visual and emotional. It is easy to visualize a “big beautiful wall” in your mind’s eye. He simplifies complex issues and suggests concrete solutions to these problems. In Trump’s communication there are good guys and bad guys, there is good and evil and his focus is on eliminating the bad guys and eradicating evil. This type of straightforward communication is powerful and effective and Trump comes off looking passionate and powerful.


Hillary’s approach is much more nuanced. She lacks the simplicity of clear distinctions between good and bad. Communicating the complexities of the grey areas between good and bad gets messy and confusing. It is hard for anyone to argue that Hillary didn’t win the first two Presidential debates, but she did it with her superior knowledge of the issues and her appearance of strength and control. Trump was the definite winner in terms of his appearance of passion and his straightforward communication.


7. Base decisions on facts. Intuition is better than no information at all but facts are always better.

I once had a boss, the CEO of large telecom company, who frequently said in newspaper interviews that he ran the company by intuition. Many of us who worked close to him often commented that “that explains an awful lot”. Intuition at best is an extension of our competence. There is a great deal of research that has been done around intuition and that strange phenomena we call “common sense” and as it turns out our intuition is much better when we are knowledgeable about the subject. A brain surgeon’s “intuition” about my brain tumor is probably better than the plumber’s. But the plumber’s intuition about the plumbing in my house is probably better than the brain surgeon’s.


Despite the fact that Donald often says that he relies heavily on his intuition, in one quote he says almost exactly what I mean.

Experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better off sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.”

Donald’s own experience has led him to the conclusion that his “gut” is more successful when he sticks with what he knows. The worrying thing is that he frequently shows up at important events where he has no prior experience, like the presidential debate completely unprepared.


Unlike Hillary, who is seen studying her notes right up to the start of a debate or a speech and has a reputation for being better prepared than anyone in Washington DC. As President Obama said “There has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as the next US president.”.

Good leadership is hard work. If you enjoy taking risks and can live with the consequences of your decisions, you might choose to follow your gut and see what happens. If, however, you are the leader of the most powerful nation on earth you would be better served to do your homework and take every possible action to guarantee the quality of your decisions.


8. Say what you think. And create a climate where others do the same.

Having followed the debate closely there is no doubt that both candidates have no trouble saying what they think. The question is whether or not they can create a climate where others do the same.


Donald is clearly the loser in this category. He has difficulty letting his opponents voice their views in organized debates, he becomes aggressive when confronted by protesters and he is often rude and offensive when journalists point out his weaknesses. Whatever Donald’s strengths may be, encouraging people to speak their minds is not one of them.


Hillary shows a completely different side here. Whether it is her personality or years of experience in politics, she manages opposing views well, arguing the facts, and mixing it up with the occasional joke to relieve stress.

A story by Jon Favreau, former Obama speechwriter, sums up Hillary’s ability to handle dissension and create an open working climate very well. “During the 2008 campaign, I wrote plenty of less-than-complimentary words about Hillary Clinton in my role as Barack Obama’s speechwriter. Then, a few weeks after the election, I had a well-documented run-in with a piece of cardboard that bore a striking resemblance to the incoming Secretary of State.

It was one of the stupider, more disrespectful mistakes I’ve made, and one that could have cost me a job if Hillary hadn’t accepted my apology, which she did with grace and humor. As a result, I had the chance to serve in the Obama administration with someone who was far different than the caricature I had helped perpetuate.” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/26/why-electing-hillary-in-16-is-more-important-than-electing-obama-in-08.html )


9. Support your people. And remember that they work for you of their own free will.

I imagine that by this point in the article you can pretty well fill in this commandment yourself.


Donald likes to perpetuate the idea of himself as a self-made man. That somehow he took the millions he inherited from his father and shaped it into an empire. Whether true or not, it is what Trump wants everyone to believe and nowhere in this narrative is there room for other people. There have naturally been many people involved in building Trumps “empire” but the only ones that get a role in the story are his wives and an occasional celebrity buddy. Whatever the perks might be for working for a man like Trump, appreciation is not likely one of them.


As previously discussed, Hillary is known to be a team player. She shares the glory with her subordinates and seems to understand that when they grow she grows, a lesson Donald has unfortunately missed out on.


10. Go from manager to leader. Remember that the company chose you as boss but the employees decide whether you are their leader.

When it comes to this commandment Trump clearly competes with Clinton at least to some degree. Even if, as some argue, many voters may vote against a candidate more than they vote for one, both candidates have successfully rallied large groups of supporters who would rather see them into the oval office.  We should also keep in mind that because someone is a good leader does not mean that the leader is good.  Leadership is primarily a learned set of skills and these skills can be used for good or bad purposes.


Hillary appears to be a truly gifted manager but may not be as strong with regard to her leadership skills. This is not to say that she is an ineffective leader. As I have said earlier, whatever her strengths and weaknesses she will likely win the election and become the first female President of the United States.


Donald is sorely lacking in much of the leadership qualities and knowledge that would make him a success as President but he possesses enough leadership skills to attract a large portion of the American people. He has a gift for understanding his supporter’s mentality and excels at honing and communicating his message to appeal to their interests.

The most important question which I hope we never get an answer for is how he would perform in the day-to-day role of President. By my analysis he would be a very dangerous choice.

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