Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump: Smart, Wise, Both, or Neither?
The 2016 presidential election, dominated by the scandals of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, has made many question what qualities constitute true leadership. Is it enough to know the policy inside and out, as Clinton does, or does America need a leader who can mobilize its disenchanted citizens, as Trump has demonstrated? In our 2013 book, From Smart to Wise, my co-author Navi Radjou and I discuss two types of leaders: functional smart and business smart. In this article, I’ll discuss how Clinton and Trump embody examples of both, and make the argument that they need to learn from one another prior to taking office in order to be the wise leader America deserves.
Who is a Functional Smart Leader?
Functional smart leaders sweat the details, keep things close to the chest, focus on staying within the domain in which they are most comfortable, and do not take risks. The enjoy working on the execution of a project instead of the vision, focusing on concrete evidence rather than conceptual ideas. In many ways, Hillary Clinton fits this description to a T.
However, the qualities that make her so effective can also limit her growth. While Clinton is an effective policy wonk who loves to dive into the details, she can be overly cautious, deliberate, and guarded, which contributes to the impression of her as inauthentic. Functional smart leaders also suffer from self-censoring — fearful of being wrong or making a misstep, these leaders hunker down on what works while losing sight of what’s possible. In such a way, Clinton has been criticized for being “Obama 2.0” rather than developing her own voice and vision for America.
Who is a Business Smart Leader?
Business smart leaders think big, connect the dots to see the underlying patterns, see opportunities everywhere (and therefore sometimes have difficulty staying focused), take risks (prudent or not), and enjoy discussion at the 30,000 feet level, focusing on conceptual ideas rather than concrete evidence. According to this description, Donald Trump would agree that he’s a Business Smart leader.
As we’ve seen throughout the campaign, however, Trump has pushed his own agenda so vigorously that it’s unclear what his actual policy plan is. He has awoken a sleeping population of voters, but along the way got caught up in his own passion and built a campaign without any concrete evidence. While his ascension to the Republican presidential nominee has been astounding, it has also come with unnecessary risks — like his inability to control his temper when goaded in debates or in Twitter messages. Like a true visionary, he likes to try things out, but with little preparation nor discussion with his team, he tends to blurt things out and build on emotional outcries rather than legal substance. No one can deny that Trump is authentic, unlike Clinton, but in many ways being true to his nature has hurt him more than it has helped.
Two Radically Convergent Approaches to Leadership
There are six characteristics in which the two types of smart leaders differ:
- Action Orientation
- Role Clarity
- Decision Logic
Let us compare Clinton and Trump in each of these six.
Perspective: Trump embodies the Business Smart mindset by building a strong personal brand with a differentiated perspective on the world — even though this is a perspective that many incumbents in the industry actively distrust. This is opposite to Clinton, who as a Functional Smart leader focuses neither on standing out (like Trump) nor integrating (like Sanders), but rather on riding out the storm of the campaign and letting Trump self-destruct. Instead of building a strong vision for her presidency, she has only recently begun to adapt to her competitors’ feedback, begrudgingly moving to the left after a prolonged primary battle with Sanders.
Action Orientation: Trump sets the pace. He is fast and likes to be first — how he does it is a matter of detail that is of little concern to him. Perception is more important than substance, so he is on Twitter night and day instead of focusing on the main theme — providing solutions to national issues. Clinton meanwhile would prefer to let Trump shoot himself in the foot and let the drama play out, which would have been successful had FBI Director Comey not reintroduced the email controversy to Congress. While the substance of the emails hasn’t been nearly as inflammatory as Trump’s daily insults, her campaign hadn’t prepared enough positive momentum to avoid getting mired once again in the repercussions.
Role Clarity: Trump’s ego is big. He has difficulty apologizing for his mistakes and aggressively targets and blames others even if he is at fault. He always has to be in the front and center and has difficulty giving up the spotlight. On the other hand, Clinton is certainly the most qualified candidate for the Presidency, but despite her wealth of experience and skills, her penchant for secrecy and discomfort for criticism can make her appear untrustworthy for many people. In response, she overcompensates by showcasing her technical knowledge in debates and public events, but conversely appears too “rehearsed.”
Decision Logic: Trump goes by his instinct and emotion rather than logic. He shoots from the hip and cannot resist reacting even when obviously provoked (as evidenced in the third debate). His instincts and emotional response have often been cited as the root of his failure to succeed against Clinton. Meanwhile, Clinton favors logic over emotion, but comes across as fake, untrustworthy and inauthentic despite her great resume.
Fortitude: Trump does not have a larger purpose to serve other than his ego, and as such has difficulty sticking to his political script. However, regarding his personal matters, he is stubborn and does not shift his position despite many video recordings showing him at fault. Clinton believes that she is a servant leader and her life’s purpose and destiny are to be the US President. Therefore, she does not give up her dream and is very persistent despite major opposition from Trump’s followers.
Motivation: Trump is about enhanced self-interest rather than enlightened self-interest. There is plenty of talk about a potential Trump Channel, just one way that Trump might leverage his candidacy regardless of whether he won or lost. He’s always looking out for his own financial upside, even if it means opposing the position that he took a few days ago. Clinton is also about self-interest, though she believes that her interest in the presidency is only to serve — so her belief is that she is doing what she is doing in order to deliver Americans the best president that they deserve.
What’s Next for the Oval Office?
To be wise leaders, both candidates must change. Here are a few suggestions on how they could learn from the others’ strengths and move forward:
- Clinton needs to articulate her own vision, dream and high-level message of integration. She needs to show that despite flaws in her character, she is open to listen, change, and learn what it takes to be a good president. By emotionally connecting with people and being more vulnerable and transparent, rather than hold everything close to the chest, she can win hearts, not just minds.
- Trump needs to slow down and make a strong case for how and what he plans to make the USA strong. Instead of focusing on racial tensions on “rich person” issues, he can benefit from showing that he truly cares about low and middle-class population. His perspective must be more inclusive and holistic.
- Clinton should show more authenticity and openness to encourage people to believe and trust her. After all, this election so far has been about her character, as she does not need to convince people about her competence.
- Trump must be more appropriate in his comments and learn to include people. By drawing up a plan which leverages the diversity and capability that exists in our population more than he has done before, he could evolve his rallying cry of “Make America Great Again” with actual substance.
- Both of them need to let go of their ego for the time being. By collaborating with others who are more capable to get things done, both candidates serve to benefit. Clinton has to be more personable without losing her political engagement, and Trump has become more substantive and more engaged with the political and economic realities of the nation and world. Instead of making vain statements about the USA and disparaging statements about other countries and leaders, Trump needs to realize that as president, either candidate will have to work together with other world leaders to, yes, make America great and more importantly create a better world.
Whichever way the election goes, either candidate will have to contend with a divided government, and will need the support of Congress to execute and bring about meaningful change. Clinton has to quickly learn how to earn her country’s trust, and Donald Trump has to show that he has the temperament and reflective quality to let the public trust him with the nuclear codes.
Knowing when to hold or fold is an art, not a science. Learning how to accept failure with grace and give credit to your enemy when you succeed are difficult skills, but they show respect to the democratic institution, the constitution, and the people. Regardless of who wins the election, wise leadership would manifest in Trump tactfully accepting the results and Clinton growing her emotional intelligence.
Wise leaders focus on enlightened self-interest, even selfless interest. But just like us, these presidential candidates have strengths and weaknesses that uniquely position them for greatness or ruin. Trump has highlighted the danger of unspoken insecurities and polarizations, while Clinton has showcased how control, ambition, and secrecy can at times undermine competency, commitment, and persistence. Both can learn from each other, so when (or if) both of them move towards the middle of the leadership pendulum instead of staying on two opposite sides of it, we have an opportunity to experience wise leadership in the highest seat of our country.