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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Huffington Post: The Phoniness of Donald Trump

From The Huffington Post, posted July 20, 2015

Donald Trump wants to become president. He’s running a campaign based on vanity and ego, not authentic leadership, with some prejudice tossed in. You will have to look far and wide to find a public figure who is less authentic than Trump. Last Saturday he reached a new low when he attacked Senator John McCain’s war record, saying, “He’s not a war hero because he was captured.” While McCain was held captive in the “Hanoi Hilton,” Trump avoided the war through deferments.

Trump is the perfect illustration of why “you can’t fake it to make it” to become a leader. Running for the nation’s highest office without ever holding an elected position, he is trying to act like a leader without developing himself as an authentic human being. People immediately sense who is authentic and who is not, and Trump doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Nevertheless, according to Fox News, Trump leads the Republican primary polls. This may say more about dissatisfaction of the electorate than Trump’s qualifications to be president. Without question, a Trump presidency would severely damage our nation. “The Donald” has driven organizations into bankruptcy, made racist slurs, and denied climate change. As a result, a dozen companies recently severed ties with him.

As a wannabe leader, Trump tries to comb over more than his hair. In the past, he has advocated government health care, an assault weapons ban, and 14.25 percent flat tax on all wealthy Americans. Now he opposes all three. Does he stand for anything, other than promoting Donald Trump?

In 2012 Trump told Newsmax the GOP wouldn’t win election if it was perceived as “mean-spirited to Latinos.” Contrast that with his recent presidential announcement, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” With that, he stirs up racial prejudice and divides our country.

Trump’s phoniness stands in sharp contrast to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. This past Monday, Schultz announced that Starbucks, in partnership with 16 other companies, will hire 100,000 minority youth workers by 2018. In addition, Schultz is putting his money where his mouth is. He and his wife Sheri donated $30 million from their family foundation to fund local job training. Through these initiatives, Schultz is hearkening back to the challenges of his youth by making a commitment to help young people get started. As Schultz said “It’s very personal for me, having grown up in public housing and understanding what it was like to be that poor kid.”

At Harvard Business School, we have spent the past 10 years in helping develop authentic leaders among MBAs and executive participants. As I describe in my forthcoming book, Discover Your True North, the mark of an authentic leader is being a servant leader who focuses on others. To become authentic leaders, all of us have to make the transition from “I to We” — recognizing that leadership is not about us, but empowering the people we serve.

Howard Schultz made that transition, which Trump never did. At Starbucks, he’s focused on improving the lives of employees, becoming the first retail chain to offer health care to all employees, including part-timers. Over the past five years, Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 veterans, providing in-job training, and paying for employees’ online college education through Arizona State University. Schultz has also been an advocate for same sex marriage, gun control, and improved federal health care. In the absence of federal government action, he believes the business community must take the lead in addressing the jobs crisis.

Schultz isn’t perfect, but he acknowledges his mistakes and moves on. For example, his “Race Together” campaign this past spring received an avalanche of criticism. In this case he moved too far, too fast to address a highly charged subject, but does anyone doubt that we need to have honest discussions about racial issues?

On the other hand, Trump has only moved from “I” to “I am running for president.” Where Schultz has focused Starbucks on serving others, Trump has focused his companies on promoting himself. Over the past 30 years, Trump developed multiple products with his name: Trump Towers, Trump Vodka, and my favorite, Donald Trump The Fragrance. In his television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump’s favorite phrase was “You’re Fired,” spoken with all the compassion of a cruel despot.

In the past, Trump’s self-serving style of leadership was all-too-common. In that era many leaders focused on extrinsic metrics of success: money, power, and fame. Today’s authentic leaders recognize that to be effective leaders they must serve others. They know that empowering others to lead, rather than exerting power over them, is the only way their organizations can be successful.

Donald Trump’s rise in the polls legitimizes a broken style of leadership. For young leaders, Trump provides the wrong type of model – a self-focused egomaniac. For authentic leaders, Trump insults the humble service they give to their organizations. For the rest of us, Trump represents a well-crafted persona who cannot be trusted.

As our increasingly diverse nation honors the enormous contributions of newly immigrated Americans, it is a sad commentary that Trump’s racist statements about Mexicans have taken him to the top of the Republican polls.

Does something smell rotten in this presidential election? It must be Donald Trump The Fragrance.