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22 May 2017
Now that Donald Trump has completed his first 100 days in office, many observers and commentators are doing an assessment of his performance to date. As people on both sides of the political debate air their views, there is an important question that is being asked.
That question is: will Trump be able to learn fast enough to survive and indeed make a success of his term of office?

Learning-on-the-job is a term that has become popular over the past decade or so. It speaks to the fact that people get thrust into positions for which they have had very little preparation. This means that, instead of having learnt key lessons before they take the position, they have to learn as they’re going along.

Trump, however, faces not only the challenge of learning on the job, but also of changing from business success to political success.

Challenge 1: High profile jobs don’t allow for on-the-job learning

On-the-job learning works very well for lower level jobs that are shielded from the public’s gaze and scrutiny. Most lower and even medium level jobs are performed in a fairly private environment, away from merciless public scrutiny. By “private” I mean that, while they may be visible to many people within their particular organisation, it’s assumed that those people are all working toward the same goal and have an interest in the person succeeding. They will therefore (hopefully) give them the time and space to learn as they’re going along and get up to speed eventually.

But the higher the position, the less this is likely to happen. The CEO of a company doesn’t have that same luxury. He or she has shareholders, fellow directors, the general public, government and other interested parties watching their every move, expecting them to make smart decisions from day one. There’s no “let’s give him some time to find his feet” attitude with company heads.   

Now, when it comes to the position of President of the US, you can multiply the expectations of good performance by a couple of 100. There’s no room or time to get up to speed, to learn as you go along. Every one of your citizens – supporters and opposition alike – expect you to get things right first time. And no excuse is a good one, despite what you as a leader may think!

Challenge 2: Success is often a successful person’s biggest stumbling block

Because business success doesn’t equate to political success, the biggest challenge Trump faces in his political career is the business success he enjoyed in his “past life” as a real estate mogul. He has, to date, used the same techniques and modus operandi in the political arena as he used in the business world. These techniques worked well on the campaign trail because of the similarities of the campaign trail and business – they both involve competition. And few know how to take on and beat competitors better than Donald Trump.

Since his election, however, Trump has been battling to cope with his new role – serving the American people, no matter what their political persuasion. He’s still in competition mode – the mode of business – and hasn’t realised that he has to change gears now that he is President. This explains why he has had to find a new competitor to satisfy his need to win. Enter the media, which has become the target of consistent attacks from him. This competition has deteriorated to such an extent that there has for some time now been talk of his “war” with the media. What is war? It’s a competition. Someone has to win. It would appear that the war Trump is trying to win is getting the public to side with him against the media. He will then feel he’s won. But, in the unlikely event of his winning this war, he will then move on to another competition, unless he breaks out of competition mode.

This is not a problem unique to Trump. During my many years of engaging with senior business leaders, I have encountered the same situation where successful leaders’ success has blinded them to their leadership styles and indeed their flaws. They have been so successful to date so they just can’t imagine that any other way would work better. And so they stride forward, applying their previous style to new situations and just can’t understand why the old way doesn’t work.

As we face unprecedented change, leaders face an increasing challenge to change the way they lead. I urge you not to let your former success blind you to the fact that the way you did things previously might not be what is required going forward. Put another way, the leadership style that got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go. You may need to make some radical changes to the way you work, lead and live because the world you work, lead and live in has changed – and so have the people.

As you challenge your former successful techniques, styles and skills and explore new ways of leading, you will rediscover success. This is therefore not a nice-to-do. It’s a must-do!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.

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