What if Trump was your Company’s CEO?
Or Hillary Clinton? Or Bernie Sanders?
In a non-scientific survey of 12 board directors, I asked whether they would choose Trump or Clinton to lead a company transformation. Much like in the movie “12 Angry Men”, 11 out of 12 found the answer to be obvious. Yet like in the movie, the one dissenting voice ultimately convinced all 11 to change their mind. And in our case, to choose Trump.
I am of course exaggerating somewhat. I did not actually talk to anyone who would trust Trump to put their company’s interests above his own. And most doubted his business skills outside of Country Clubs and Beauty Pageants. But what dawned on everybody was that he would probably outperform most CEOs in terms of transforming the company culture fast. Under Trump, we could expect to soon have an organization full of passionate people, investing all their skills and energy in a shared action plan. And isn’t this what every CEO dreams to have?
What is Trump doing to so well? In fact, he follows the advice that all CEOs have been given when managing change. He role models. He communicates. He dramatizes the need for change. He brings every discussion or interview back to the strategy. He gives feedback constantly. He calls out any behaviour which is not in line with his vision. He gets personal and he connects with his audience.
Yes, yes, I know. He is not consistent on his policies. He role models behaviour which is not productive. He is self-centered. The list goes on. But in terms of creating the change he wants, it does not matter. He does not want to create a culture of analytical thinking, fairness, consistency or servant leadership. In relation to the culture he wants, he is perfectly consistent. He is anti-establishment. Hard-nosed. Ambitious. Unconventional (even innovative). Results-focused. And he believes in fixing the fundamentals, not polishing a turd!
Sanders is in many ways equally good at change, but of course with a different vision for the future. He is about giving opportunities to the poor. Human rights. Education. Tolerance of lifestyle choices. And he consistently role models his culture. He was for same sex marriage 30 years before it became popular. He voted against the Iraq war when most of the country wanted revenge. He connects with people across boundaries like age, gender, religion, national origin, etc.
Both Trump and Sanders are openly intolerant when they see anything which goes against their vision. Bernie may be known for being tolerant. But not when it comes to greed, Wall Street, religious rights to teach creationism or reject atheist customers, etc.
Clinton is different. She is so tolerant that she does not set any direction. She says one thing in private to the banks and another to the public. She is firmly against same-sex marriage until she is firmly for. She votes for the Iraq war until the public mood changes and she changes also. She learned during her years as a first lady that it is expensive to have enemies. She learned to navigate the political world by avoiding issues, finding common ground with all stakeholders, adapting her points of view to changes in the voters’ opinions, etc.
Clinton’s model is unfortunately the model of many CEOs. These CEOs may win the popular vote like Clinton did. But they struggle to transform their company into a perfcctly aligned group of enthusiastic people whose capabilities match the market needs perfectly, thus creating a competitive edge. Companies are not meant to be tolerant or to appeal to everybody. To win in a competitive market place, they need to be distinctive, differentiated and superior in the key areas. To achieve this, the company needs to give up being all things to all people.
This is why Trump and Sanders should be the benchmark for CEOs who want to beat the odds when leading a transformation. 75% of companies are today in the middle of a transformation. 70% of them will fail, if we believe the historical facts. Transformation is not easy. We need to compare ourselves to only the very best when evaluating whether we are doing enough to make our transformation successful. As a CEO, am I as clear as Trump? Do my past actions support our strategy as consistently as in the case of Sanders? Do I use every opportunity to provide feedback on behaviours and results? Is my vision as sharp as Trump’s? Do my employees believe me when I argue for change? And am I intolerant enough to attract the right people and do the wrong people leave on their own?
That is the gift which Trump and Sanders have already given us. A clear and dramatic visualization of the skills needed to create change. Let’s take that gift into our companies. And apply it against a more productive vision of the future.