A Teachable Moment c/o Donald Trump: How to Really Succeed in Life and Work

Donald TrumpI was at O’Hare Airport hurrying along a crowded corridor on my way to gate B 5 when I heard a mom say to her little boy, who was having a sit-down-on-his-butt screaming tantrum, “This is not the way we behave.” That moment, that teachable moment, made me think about Donald Trump and how he behaves, because maybe this is a teachable moment for all of us in America.

We have seen how Donald Trump has risen in the Republican Party with an angry, divisive message. And although he has tapped into a very powerful vein of legitimate unhappiness, the raw way he expresses himself has been shocking and deeply disturbing to many people. “Lock her up!” “Get him outta here!” “I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard… I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin and he wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”

This may be the unvarnished, authentic way some people talk to each other, but the crudeness and the meanness of it causes even formerly ardent Republican “soccer mom” friends of mine to turn off their TV sets whenever their children are in the room and Trump is on the screen.

In the business world, it is generally accepted that a positive, respectful culture in a workplace is crucial for success. The leader, the boss, the manager sets the tone. Where there is a positive culture there can be a healthy flow of ideas and the company does better. The way people treat each other, including encouraging engagement, inviting different perspectives, learning from people with diverse backgrounds, and at the very least, treating everyone with respect, is important for a successful workplace.

As an executive coach, I work with people who are not playing well with others. They are sent to work with me by their law firms, by banks, or other companies, or they are self-referred because they want to be successful in their careers. We work together to improve their skills as leaders and managers. We work on emotional intelligence and strategies for creating productive, collegial work groups. We talk about how to lead by example so that the work group can be more productive.

In stark contrast, these are just some of the ways Donald Trump treats people: he demeans a gold star family, he makes fun of a disabled reporter, and he encourages violence if he cannot get his way. All of this runs counter to the way of behaving in the work world we teach our kids so that they will be successful in life. You shouldn’t expect to get what you want in life by having a sit-down-on-your-butt temper tantrum, by demeaning other people, by belittling, taunting, bullshitting or bullying.

Donald Trump would have been fired from any job he might have had if he acted the way he does on the campaign trail. The only reason he has not been fired is because he is the boss of his own enterprises. Anyone else acting this way would have been out of a job long ago.

Americans, even people who used to be excited about Trump’s candidacy, are turning away from him. He is losing market share and damaging his brand. And it’s not just his gaffes or policies that are changing people’s minds. It’s the way he behaves. It’s what he says and how he says it.

We tell our kids to treat others with respect. We tell them to do their homework and pay attention to the facts. We insist that they talk to us and others in a civil way. We do this so that they will be successful in life and at work.

Trump’s campaign does not currently look like a successful venture. As of now, he is not going to win this election. It is reassuring to know that the values and lessons we work hard to instill in our children are good ones for everyone, including grown up politicians.

photo credit: Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore (license)

What Advice Would I Give my Younger Self?

Recently I did a talk for the Posse Scholars in Chicago about how to develop relationships that can open doors for internships and jobs. The audience consisted of about thirty very engaged and interesting young men and women who were either in college or about to go to college. They had qualified to be Posse Scholars, participating in a rigorous process designed to find high-school-age leaders with smarts, good judgment, and motivation, and chosen to participate in a support program at some of the top universities and colleges in the country.

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After my presentation, I opened the conversation to take questions from the audience. One young man asked, “What advice would you give your younger self? What would you say to yourself when you were our age, now knowing what you know?” That was a very interesting question. Here is the answer.

When you start out in a career, you never really know for sure where it will lead you. You want to begin with a goal based on self-knowledge, which includes understanding what you do well and what you find deeply interesting and satisfying in terms of content. As you make your way to that career goal, your ultimate objective might well shift and change. It often happens that along the way you find a path that takes you off the road you envisioned and in an interesting and appealing new direction. That’s okay. Do not think you have to stay with the goal you set for yourself originally.

However, it is really important to have a goal. Without a goal you can feel adrift and lose your sense of purpose. I counsel many people who have been “wandering around in the career woods.” They chose a path or simply started on a path because it was easy or it was something they were told ought to be good for them. But they did not affirmatively choose it. As time went on, it proved to be unsatisfying. They come to work with me to try to figure out the right career direction. Sometimes they just need to find a career direction that plays to their strengths based on shifts in the world or changes in their own priorities. It’s all okay.

One of my favorite songs is Gerry Rafferty’s “Get It Right Next Time.” Here are some of the lyrics.

Out on the street I was talkin’ to a man
He said there’s so much of this life of mine that I don’t understand
You shouldn’t worry yes that ain’t no crime
‘Cause if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

You need direction, yeah you need a name
When you’re standing in the crossroads every highway looks the same
After a while you can recognize the signs
So if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

You gotta grow, you gotta learn by your mistakes
You gotta die a little everyday to try to stay awake
When you believe there’s no mountain you can’t climb
And if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

I would tell my younger self it is perfectly okay to feel confused at the crossroads. Know that it will be a worthwhile journey if you are true to yourself: follow your talents and strong interests, affirmatively choose your goals, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t worry if the goal changes over time because you never know where life will take you and if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time.