Examining the Trump Phenomenon

When real estate mogul Donald J. Trump first announced that he would run for President in 2016, I scoffed sarcastically and thought “Yeah, that will not happen.” I sure got that wrong. Like millions of people, I watched Trump dismantle the Republican field in the primaries and then gaped in stunned amazement as he pulled off the upset of the last two centuries in defeating the establishment candidate and political machine, HRC.


Although the concept of leadership has been studied for centuries, there is still no one consensus defining it. We recognize leadership when we see it. We miss it when it is absent. America has had an absence of leadership, perhaps since the days of Reagan; maybe even longer. I believe that it is the nation’s longing for leadership that brought about the Trump Phenomenon. That same longing ushered in a younger, less gray-haired Barack Obama under the auspices of hope and change. However, for a wide variety of reasons, the last eight years have seemingly increased the thirst for genuine leadership.

Trump, like many of us, has his warts. However, the evidence indicates that he is a leader.

In his book, “Leadership: Theory and Practice,” author Peter G. Northouse defines leadership as the process whereby an individual influences a group of people to achieve a common goal. By becoming the president-elect, Donald Trump has certainly demonstrated the ability to influence individuals to work toward achieving a common purpose.

What caused the Trump Phenomenon?

Many pundits are already analyzing what happened in America’s historic 2016 election. As a student of leadership, I am fascinated by what I witnessed. It made me ask many questions. It has given me few answers. However, here are a few, attempting to explain how Donald J. Trump became our nation’s President-Elect.

1.       Leaders debunk existing paradigms. They walk into the room and ask “What does everybody believe to be true?” and turn that up on its head. By nature, leaders are change agents who do not accept the status quo. They shake the tree, rattle the cage, and draw up their own path. There is no doubt that the 2016 Election is unlike any that we have seen in our lifetime. Trump shattered all boundaries and decimated everything everyone believed to be true about the American election process.

2.       Leaders are visionary. Early on, Trump cast a vision and invited others to share in it. Leaders inspire others to participate in a mission by sharing their vision for building a better monkey wrench. Whatever the standard was in the past or is today, the leader says “We can do better.” Trump canvassed the American landscape, picked out its flaws, and declared “Let’s make America great again.” Other than perhaps Bernie Sanders, no one else running in the race even came close to casting a vision that captured the hearts and concerns of millions of Americans. Both men sensed a spirit of discontent in our land. Trump capitalized on it and catapulted to the White House with his vision.

3.       Leaders are fighters. They fight for their beliefs. They fight for their team. They fight for their people. Trump fought tooth and nail. Donald Trump pulled out all stops, adapting to whomever his opponent was, soundly defeating them.

4.       Leaders inspire others to action. They recognize involvement breeds commitment. Love him or hate him, Trump springs people into action. He got millions of people off the couch and made them pick a side. His wild and crazy statements made people stop and think and consider whether they agreed with what he was saying. Regardless of what Trump says, you cannot walk away unengaged. You agree with him and vehemently support him, or you disagree with him and become determined to hold him accountable. Either way, he is good. Because Trump is confident of the direction he is going, agreeing with him is not something he requires to pursue his stated objective. He is already following through on his promise to bring back jobs.

Leaders seek to build consensus and build bridges. Since his election, Trump has demonstrated a willingness to work with others across party lines and with those who dared disparage him in the past. Let bygones be bygones, he seems to be saying, and let’s get to work.

No doubt there is a lot to do, and frankly, America needs Donald Trump to succeed.

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