The Gutless Leadership Model


Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Several weeks ago, I outlined three significant achievements of the Trump presidency. In the spirit of balance, it is important to acknowledge when good work has been done. In that column, I also alluded to the fact that the questions of character and leadership would be dealt with in a subsequent column.

So here we are.

To many people, a title of “gutless leadership” sounds more of an oxymoron than anything else. How can “gutless leadership” make any sense? Leadership is all about courage and honor. It’s about character and virtue. It does seem like an oxymoron! So, let’s just define “gutless leadership” as the spineless behaviors of someone who is in a position of perceived leadership.

And herein lies the discussion of President Trump. Yes, he has done some good things. And this should be acknowledged. But as a leader? Gutless is a clear conclusion one can take. It’s difficult to find courage and honor in the Trump leadership model. We can all learn from good and not-so-good examples. So, for business leaders, there is plenty to learn in terms of what to avoid in Trump’s gutless leadership model:

Real leaders do their own dirty work. When a termination needs to be done, standup leaders do the dirty work themselves. They don’t farm it out to someone else so they can keep their hands clean.

I recently had a case in my company. One of our managers needed to separate a few employees. He made the decision but didn’t want the uncomfortable situation of having to do it, so he asked HR to do it for him. No way! I personally was fired like this once in my life. My boss didn’t have the guts to do it herself, knowing I was being “thrown under the bus” and could call out the complete unfairness of the decision. So, it was farmed out to someone else to do. I felt demeaned and disrespected and whatever small modicum of respect I had for my boss at that point was gone forever. Leaders take on the tough tasks and they do the firing themselves. It is well established that President Trump cannot fire people to their faces. He asks his chief of staff to do it, or he does it via Twitter. It’s gutless. Doing this is akin to the guy who breaks up with his fiancée via text message. And we all know how little respect one has for guys who do such a thing.

Real leaders are at heart “servant leaders” and give dignity and respect to those who merit it. Great leaders serve their people. A study was done on the greatest military generals in history and it found only one consistent behavior: great generals always ate last during meals, ensuring their battle-weary men ate first. They serve those under them. They also respect and take care of those who need support most. Now contrast this to a “leader” such as Trump, who ridicules a disabled reporter. And who ridicules a man like John McCain for being a POW during the Vietnam War and being tortured in service to his nation. All this coming from a man who has never worn the uniform nor ever been put in a position of having to defend a nation. It’s abominable. It’s gutless leadership. The disabled should be honored for their courage to operate in society despite having physical challenges, and all veterans should be treated with respect and dignity and a nod of thanks for their service.

Real leaders unify their troops. They find common ground and they envision a future that everyone can embrace. Gutless leaders divide their troops and create a civil war of sorts. They sow hatred and fear as powerful tools to turn friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor. “Divide and conquer” is their mantra. Look at the US now; the word “United” is hardly an accurate descriptor. It’s American vs. American. The other side is the enemy: they are “stupid” and “dangerous.” And while this is not of Trump’s creation and it has simmered beneath the surface for generations, it is only now that the simmer has been brought to a full boil. And it’s getting worse. And gutless leadership put the US in this precarious position.

Real leaders take accountability. It takes true strength to stand up and say, “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake.” It doesn’t take strength or courage to deflect blame. It takes guts to take the bullet. When can anyone recall President Trump saying either “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong”? He doesn’t have the courage to do it. He deflects blame and throws his people, many who have been loyal, under the bus. And it’s a long list: Rex Tillerson, Michael Cohen, Jeff Sessions, Reince Preibus. Trump was dead wrong on the “birther” controversy he kick-started. And yet he still hasn’t admitted the truth — that it was all lies. And this leads to the final point…

Real leaders tell the truth (most of the time). Nobody is 100 percent truthful. All people can manipulate facts, twist the truth, or outright lie. But it’s often a question of frequency. As of Sept. 12, in 600 days in office, President Trump has uttered over 5,000 verified lies. That’s over eight lies per day. And this isn’t fake news. You can watch the footage and see how the story changes from one video to the next! The point is quite simple, even for staunch Trump supporters: How do you know when someone is telling the truth when they lie with such frequency? And how do you know he will do what he promises with such a record of false truths? How can you trust him?

We are a far cry today from Harry Truman and his famous statement, “The buck stops here.” True leadership has taken a backseat to gutless leadership. Have some good moves been made? Yes, some good moves have been made. But is leadership so undervalued that it doesn’t matter how poor the leadership is if they do a few things we like? Have we come to this point where character and values don’t matter?

I certainly hope not.