Harold Hillman: Trump brings a new low to team dysfunction

The man who plays with matches just may light a fire he can’t control
Hillman examines Trump's actions through the perspective of what it means to 'lead a team.' Photo / Getty Images
Hillman examines Trump's actions through the perspective of what it means to 'lead a team.' Photo / Getty Images

Hours after the horrific mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Donald Trump sent the following note out to a stunned nation as it awoke last Sunday morning:

"Last night, our nation was attacked by a radical Islamic terrorist. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11, and the second of its kind in 6 months. My deepest sympathy and support goes out to the victims, the wounded, and their families.

In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words 'Radical Islam'. For that reason alone, he should step down. If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words 'Radical Islam' she should get out of this race for the Presidency.

If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen - and it is only going to get worse. I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack.

We can't afford to be politically correct anymore.

The terrorist, Omar Mir Saddique Mateen, is the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan who openly published his support for the Afghanistani Taliban and even tried to run for President of Afghanistan. According to Pew, 99 per cent of people in Afghanistan support oppressive Sharia Law.

We admit more than 100,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States.

Hillary Clinton wants to dramatically increase admissions from the Middle East, bringing in many hundreds of thousands during a first term - and we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.

We need to protect all Americans, of all backgrounds and all beliefs, from Radical Islamic Terrorism - which has no place in an open and tolerant society. Radical Islam advocates hate for women, gays, Jews, Christians and all Americans. I am going to be a President for all Americans, and I am going to protect and defend all Americans. We are going to make America safe again and great again for everyone."

- Donald J. Trump

We can only assume that Trump wanted to demonstrate leadership through these words, so let's examine it from the perspective of what it means to 'lead a team.'

If there's ever a time when real leadership makes a difference, it's when the team is pushing through adversity, and certainly when it feels under attack. That would be the mind-set that many Americans awoke to this past Sunday morning.

The most compelling and tangible definition of leadership that I've used throughout my career is from the Center for Creative Leadership. Their belief is that a leader's primary role is to create an environment for the team to succeed. That would hold true for a sports team, a company, any large group of people and, most certainly, a nation.

It's a no-brainer to quickly find a villain to pursue - one that is tangible and real.

Trump's challenge, and inevitable failure at leadership, is that his mental frame for 'team' is a lot narrower than what reflects the shifting psyche of America. Trump cannot comprehend that the American social fabric has become browner and less Christian with numerous dialects that sound more foreign than domestic.

Trump's inner circle is heavily white and male, which reflects the traditional bastions of power, most evident in larger corporations like his, where women and racial minorities are still largely in peripheral support roles.

When your end-game states that diversity is a good thing because you have decent people focused on the same goal, it's harder to get everybody there if we start playing the players against each other. That's always easier to do when the team is losing, when it feels that it's under attack. Trump's voting collation are his team. And they thrive on the mentality of 'shoot first, ask questions later'.

To be able to attack back quickly brings a sense of immediate relief to the aggrieved. It's why 'turning the other cheek' is often seen as a virtue, as it requires stronger character to resist the urge to slap back too quickly. Some wonder if America truly learned that lesson in leadership after rushing into find a villain named Saddam in response to 9/11.

It is a classic tip-of-the-iceberg solution to find someone to blame when things go wrong. It's a no-brainer to quickly find a villain to pursue - one that is tangible and real.

The deeper and more important question might be: how are we all responsible for what is happening? Why do people from the Middle East view America's motives with suspicion and disdain?

But these questions are way too esoteric when you need somebody's ass to kick. Save the deep stuff for later. For now, we need somebody to blame.

To give the team some relief, Trump chose to throw it 'one of its own' to attack. He gave them something on which the team could unleash its frustration. He gave them something that they could mobilise against very quickly in the face of this threat. Like a true Machiavellian, Trump fed them the scent of an enemy that lives among them.

He started with the enemy out there, of course, which justifies his call for a ban on all Muslims from entering the US without a wait period to undergo careful scrutiny. But he didn't stop with the enemy out there, because the team couldn't get its teeth into that foreign enemy quickly enough, soon enough.

The threat of outside Muslims is not tangible enough 'red meat' for those who need someone to blame, so he chose to bring the villain closer to home - constantly highlighting the risk of illegal migrants across all borders now - no longer just the Mexicans trying to migrate north.

Trump is also talking more about the 'second generation' risk - who are comprised of young Arab Americans born in the US to foreign born parents, who feel some of the same alienation coming toward them - in some cases, more aggressively than their parents faced.

And then we question why some people who are treated as outsiders often give in to the resentment of constantly being seen as a 'threat' versus a 'contributor' to the richly diverse social fabric that is America.

Trump exploits fear to galvanise his team to take on an enemy that looks different than him and most of them, who worships differently, has values that run counter to the heart-beat of his own upbringing.

In Trump's current team game plan, the culprit most worthy of feeding to the others just so happens to be Muslim. Photo / Getty Images
In Trump's current team game plan, the culprit most worthy of feeding to the others just so happens to be Muslim. Photo / Getty Images

And to stoke the anxiety and fear even more, he beams in on how the threat is now internal, which means that you have to keep an extra careful eye on each other more closely now than ever.

At any given time, 'who' the perceived villain is might change to match the threat - be it a woman, a Muslim, a Mexican-born high school valedictorian who outs herself as illegal, or a white man who loves another man.

In Trump's current team game plan, the culprit most worthy of feeding to the others just so happens to be Muslim. How convenient for an angry and anxious team that needs one more wall to build. The Mexican border isn't enough. Now let's build a wall across the Atlantic because the big threat is heading this way fast. And not only that, they're already here. Right among us.Perhaps living right next door to you.

Walls do keep people out. Walls are self-perpetuating because they give you reason to vilify the people on the other side. Sometimes historical feuds are stoked by the mythology of the monsters who we're trying to keep out.

My father served in the all Negro Infantry during World War II, where he fought in Germany and Northern Africa - and where the white US troops fought separately from the black troops. The invisible wall was there to protect the white troops from the likely corrosion to morale that would be caused if the black troops brought their 'shucking and jiving' into the white social order.

History has taken us down this dark path of leadership numerous times before Trump.

It's hard to fight a common enemy when the leader has you pitted against each other, keeping you suspicious of each other's motives. When we're made to feel suspicious of each other, it plays itself out in ugly ways.

Scenes of fist fighting at Trump rallies - often between blacks and whites, or Hispanics and whites - as well as clear footage of the candidate bellowing to "punch them in the face," and "throw them out of here" all paint a clear picture of what a high performing team looks like for Trump.

You certainly would not accuse his team meetings of being boring and uninteresting. The problem is: running the world's most influential nation is not reality television.

Leadership is consequential in the real world, where playing with matches to promote self-gain can start a fire that would set America's progress in social diversity back to a state in which difference equals threat.

Imagine a festering team dynamic like that in your family, your church or mosque, your company, or our nation. To put a positive spin on why it's necessary to isolate the villain, we might hear: "We've got to keep a special eye on those people." The twisted thinking is that this tactic will surely reduce the risk of the second generation radicalising against us.

That same rationale led to the rounding up of Jews across Poland and the internment of first- and second-generation Japanese Americans in the US during World War II, ostensibly for their own good - to make sure they were 'well protected'. It was easier to just keep the villain contained closely together where we could watch over them and protect them from harm.

History has taken us down this dark path of leadership numerous times before Mr. Trump. The lesson that someone should be pointing out to him is: It never ends well.

- NZ Herald

Harold Hillman is a business leaders coach and author. He has a Master's Degree in Education from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh (USA). Previous roles include Corporate Vice President & Chief Learning Officer at Prudential Financial (New York). Hillman came to New Zealand in 2003 to join Fonterra and is now the MD of Sigmoid Curve Consulting Group, where he coaches business leaders and executive teams. His latest book is 'The Imposter Syndrome".

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