Does authority trump manners?

President Donald Trump is the subject of a constant flow of news stories, and will probably provide rich material for the media throughout his presidency. I was stuck by a recent comment about his temperament: “Well, he is not really a statesman, but a businessman.” This brought to mind a conversation I had with a cab driver in Nantucket a few weeks prior to the election. While I constantly met people who were stridently opposed to Trump, the driver was convinced Trump was on the path to victory. My gentle question about stories of poor business ethics was met with a ready response along the lines of “politics is a corrupt game, and even if Trump is a ‘corrupt’ businessman, he knows how to play the game and win.”

And win he did, to the great surprise of many, including those who believe content of character is a foundation to leadership.

The businessman has become a statesman, at least by virtue of his office. Although it seems obvious that there are important differences between running a (nation) state and running a business have you ever wondered if Donald Trump is setting new standards for leadership behaviour — whether in business or government? And are those standards ones you would wish to see applied by national leaders or the people with whom you do business? 

While the campaign was littered with poor examples that don't bear repeating, Trump continues to defy ordinary etiquette and basic manners. From his phone manner, to his seemingly unreflective tweets and aggressive handshakes.

Is Donald Trump setting new standards for leadership behaviour?

The Washington Post reported on a phone call where President Trump “informed [Australian Prime Minister] Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that, ‘This was the worst call by far.’ Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.”

Does this remind you of those moments you have been on the end of withering phone calls? Did you feel at the time the other person was demonstrating leadership?

A Forbes article on Trump’s most offensive tweets considers whether his tweets qualify as “cyber bullying.” He has used Twitter to call persons, “Clown”, “Dummy”, “Phony”, “Liar”, “Lightweight”, “Dopey”, “Pathetic” and “a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain.” It is difficult to imagine less decorum from a world leader. Can you imagine the consequences if a CEO treated his or her employees, and even clients, like this? 

 In “Donald Trump and the art of the super-awkward handshake”, Peter W. Stevenson muses: “Whether it's just habit, or a way of asserting his power, Trump has a habit of pulling forcefully on the hand he's shaking. We've spotted it now in handshakes with Vice President Mike Pence (on election night) and with Judge Neil Gorsuch (on the night Trump nominated Gorsuch to the Supreme Court). [...] But let's be honest – we already knew Trump likes to be in control.”

How does this contrast with Bill Clinton’s warm and welcoming handshake which was well known for fostering closeness with, and concern for, people? 

There are certain actions and behaviours that are unacceptable no matter what — and I don’t think you have to try too hard to figure out what they are. It also seems that no amount of authority or power can justify failing to treat others with human decency, common courtesy, and civility.

What are we to make of the ruthless and, at times, dehumanising tactics of ‘leaders’ who enjoy great wealth power and prestige yet lack a sound moral compass and a sensitivity to others? What message does Trump, and anyone who would imitate him, send about what is considered acceptable behaviour?

Failure to see the person in front of us, and rather seeing someone we can take advantage of to satisfy our own wants and desires, is one of the great challenges of the twenty first century. When leaders — particularly with the power and influence of President Trump — act they set an example for how others can act. They set a benchmark.

Is there a better benchmark, a more human-centred benchmark?

What standards do you expect from your leaders? What standards do you expect from yourself?