Can we learn from Donald Trump’s leadership skills?

Just because someone is a thoroughly reprehensible person does not mean they do not still have some impressive skills. Donald Trump is still tied up in legal actions for some of his actions as president, making him one of the most ethically troubled in American history – but he is certainly memorable. And, as a public speaker, there are some things that he got right that are worth mentioning.

Energy levels

Yes, he might have been spouting controversial, divisive words, but you cannot dispute that Donald Trump brought an exceptional level of energy to all his appearances. Like any potential dictator in the making, he had that force of personality that comes from being unafraid to unleash yourself fully on your captive audience. There is a lesson here in showing up with enthusiasm – people respond to it and get caught up in the emotion and energy of what you are saying. Sometimes even without listening to the content.

Non-verbal communication

Trump displayed many of the classic “white male leader” traits that we have come to define as “powerful” – steepling his fingers in a firm, determined shape, taking up space and making gestures directly at the crowd. Not everyone responds to this 1980s banker approach today (remember his audience), but he is a great example of how to convey boundless confidence. An open posture, direct eye contact with a gaze out, not down, and being unafraid to show or use his hands are all great communicative qualities.

Keeping it concise

Trump is a speaker who is very easy to understand, and it is not hard to keep up with him when he is making a speech. That is because he is adept at breaking down his content into short sentences and making all his messages pithy and to the point. This highlights the first rule of communication for anyone trying to connect with an audience: keep it simple. The number of politicians who lose their audience because they overcomplicate the message is high. Trump does not fall into the trap of speaking too fast – he uses plenty of pauses – and he regularly repeats and reiterates the messages, so nothing is ever lost.

Conveying feeling

Emotion is how we connect as humans, and Trump provides a stark contrast to other, more typical, politicians who are much more buttoned-down and do not really let much emotion show through. He is an emotion stoker, and part of his toolkit for this is expressing his own emotional responses when he speaks. Half the room might be repulsed, but half the room might be enraptured.

Using storytelling as a tool

If there is one thing Trump is great at, it is finding villains and people to blame. Although this is ethically dubious and has meant he contradicted himself plenty of times in speeches, it also demonstrates a powerful tool that many other politicians do not use effectively: storytelling. It is stories with heroes and villains and happy endings that draw us in, which is why this makes such a difference. Of course, if you are going to use this technique of his, it is best to avoid staying away from outright lies.

Donald Trump is the kind of figure who can split a room in two. He has made a huge number of errors in his public roles (never walk in front of the Monarch, Donald), but these are some of the things that he did get right.

Clearwater Advisers are a leading firm of strategic communicators, teaching leaders and executives how to win the hearts and minds of teams and clients. Find out more about how we develop leaders in their careers with our body language tool Personal Presence Analysis.

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