What’s the difference between leadership and manipulation? This two-part series explores this very question using Donald Trump as the case study. In Part One I introduced the topic and shared three of the six tactics that skilled manipulators use to get what they want. Here are the other three, along with positive leadership lessons.
Take Credit, Avoid Responsibility
One way to increase my negative influence on another person is to convince them that all the good things are because of me, and all the bad things are because of someone else. Whether it’s the immigration or trade deficits with China, anything negative is blamed on another group or often past presidents. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, especially the use of the Oversimplify and Repeat tactic, has stoked major anger and polarization along racial lines, yet he avoids any responsibility for this. However, when something goes his way, he is sure to take full credit.
Positive Leadership Lesson: Great leaders humbly accept and share credit when appropriate, and take responsibility for their behavior and its impact on others.
Turn the Tables
I’ve written about the personality types of the presidential candidates. Trump is a Promoter Personality Type, who is gifted with adaptability, charm, and persuasiveness. Highly charismatic by nature, they are tremendous deal-makers and negotiators. They roll with the punches and their agility can help them be quite successful. On the dark side, when they aren’t in a healthy space, they are just as adept at turning the tables on others, out of vengeance.
Manipulators are highly skilled at turning the tables. When they sense increasing pressure for accountability, they become very uncomfortable. In fourth grade, my favorite tactic to deflect criticism was to say, “I know you are, but what am I?” Note how frequently Trump, when pushed to explain himself or accused of negative behavior, will avoid answering the question and instead re-accuse the other person of the exact same thing.
Another tactic to turn the tables is to re-focus negative attention on others. It doesn’t matter what the content is. It could be Obama’s nationality during the campaign, or demanding to have anyone who questions him investigated for criminal acts. The only purpose is to divert negative attention onto another person. A great example of this the comedy club scene from The Nutty Professor where Buddy Love avenges his damaged ego from an earlier visit.
Positive Leadership Lesson: Great leaders are open to criticism and feedback, take responsibility for their behavior, and leverage the positives in others.
The End Justifies the Means
Manipulators are driven by a narcissistic need to dominate and be the center of everyone’s universe. For this reason, any means necessary to achieve this goal is justified. The most current example involves Trump allegedly trying to coerce a foreign government to help him discredit a political opponent. Whenever questioned about his behavior or motives, Trump’s standard tactics are to deny first and call it a witch hunt, then normalize the behavior, then throw someone else under the buss. He is fond of using polls to justify his behavior, as if approval from others makes it OK. “If the polls like me, then what I’m doing is OK.” In the corporate world, a common variation of this is, “You can’t argue with results.” as a way to justify unethical or adversarial tactics to achieve a goal.
Positive Leadership Lesson: While great leaders care deeply about having happy followers, they start with a solid, ethical core and know that popularity is not the measure of success. The same standards are applied to the end goal and the means to that goal.