One of the more thoughtful looks at the new Trump presidency. Reprinted from Forbes Magazine. All rights retained by their owner.
Volumes have already been written since the inauguration of Donald Trump about how the 45th U.S. president will likely steer the nation. Much of the chatter has been fraught with an excess of “zooming in” on the details of what the new Administration is doing, and how they are doing it, while there’s been a lack of “zooming out” to offer some context about the quality of leadership being exerted and what that means for the outlook of the next four years. At its core, presidential leadership comes down to three things—authenticity, capability, and reliability.
Against all odds, “trust” in leadership was at the heart of the Trump triumph. A whole cottage industry of scholarship and commentary on the “forgotten” American has gained currency, particularly among those trying to understand how they could have missed the Trump phenomenon. From J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind to The Politics of Resentment by Kathy Cramer, the consistent storyline is that those who helped put Trump into the White House were feeling cheated by elites whom they believed failed to share power, money, and most importantly, “respect” during the effervescent years of global economic opportunity and expansion.
Donald Trump won the election partially based on his “raw,” Reality TV image and background that conveyed to voters an aura of authenticity. By contrast, the well-orchestrated, overly-controlled campaign of his opponent clearly did not convey authenticity to the 46 percent of the voting electorate responsible for her loss (obviously compounded by a “trust” deficit built up by the steady drip of controversy over the personal email server, big-ticket, private Wall Street speeches, WikiLeaks and FBI inquiries). Trump’s “authenticity” is obviously perceived rather differently by those who did not vote for him—they are troubled by the President’s intolerance and bombast, questionable conflicts of interest and personal behavior. But Trump has been riding the authenticity horse with his supporters by staging a steady stream of executive orders intent on making good on his campaign pledges, from immigration to regulatory relief to taming the bureaucracy to unraveling Obamacare.
Trump’s success as President will require building trusted leadership. Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
The President has promised to be a transformative leader, making America “great again” and, as he pledged in his inaugural address,“January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again” with “every decision…made to benefit American workers and American families.” Whether he will be able to deliver on that promise and succeed will be a function of whether he can fill the trust quotient on which many of his supporters gave him the benefit of the doubt. But to be trustworthy, a leader needs to be more than “authentic,” of which Donald Trump has convinced many by appearing to say what he means and mean what he says.
Sustaining that trust requires a leader to be seen as capable of delivering on his/her promises and reliable in doing so over time. Here, again, the Trump constituency took a chance in believing that in order to become a successful businessman Trump had to be capable. But the jury is out on whether that “capability” in business will translate naturally to capability in governing the nation. Early fits and starts would suggest that the President and his team will need to learn fast if they are going to pass the capability test. Only passing that test in office will vindicate the trust of Trump’s hard-core supporters and expand their circle to include the 53 percent majority who disapprove of the President’s performance thus far.
Of course, in order to earn this capability stripe, the President will need allies in Congress at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as among some of the very elites whom he has vilified. Here again, the President is off to a somewhat inconsistent and rocky start.
Finally, the trust trifecta requires a truly transformative leader to be “reliable.” Reliable leaders need to deliver on their promises over time. This invariably requires making common cause with those who can help midwife their delivery. These are still early days in the new President’s tenure, but if he is to succeed he needs to remember that the secret “trust” sauce that propelled him into the White House has to be earned every day by being authentic, capable, and reliable.