Eisenhower's leadership principles recommended reading for Trump
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE will be sworn in as president in January with a lifetime of experience in business, television and other fields — but no background in government. That means the new president must learn to adapt his established leadership skills quickly, and probably learn a few new ones.

As a retired combat veteran, I speak regularly to corporate and school groups about principles of leadership. But it’s hard to know where to start in advising a president about the qualities of leadership, since the scope and challenges of that job stretch beyond what most of us can imagine.


That challenge is compounded by the fact that whichever candidate emerged victorious last Tuesday, Trump or Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Hillary Clinton tweets 'vote them out' after Senate GOP confirm Barrett CNN: Kayleigh McEnany praised Biden as 'man of the people' in 2015 MORE, would have taken office with a severe deficit of trust — significant numbers of votes in exit polls had questioned the honesty and trustworthiness of both candidates. So job one for Trump will be to start rebuilding the trust lost over the last two presidential administrations and in the heat of a deeply bitter campaign.

While the fact he’s never held elective office could be an obstacle, it doesn’t have to be. Many of us who supported Trump’s candidacy see the fact that he’s not tied to the mistakes of the past as an opportunity for fresh thinking.

So where might the incoming president look for leadership advice to reestablish trust and confidence? Start with consulting the last president with no previous experience in elected office: Dwight David Eisenhower. Eisenhower, of course, had a unique credential on his resume, having commanded the multinational Allied Forces that liberated Europe from the threat of Nazism in 1945, but no government executive experience.

As he takes command of a starkly divided nation, Trump would do well to look back on Eisenhower’s leadership example.

Helpfully, Eisenhower recorded his thoughts in a 1965 “Reader’s Digest” essay titled “What is Leadership?” It’s a fine distillation of the qualities that capture “the essence of leadership,” illustrated with portraits of leaders he had known who embodied those traits, like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Gen. George C. Marshall.

Here’s a summary of Eisenhower’s essential leadership qualities, along with my assessment of how Trump has demonstrated — or in cases, needs to work on further developing — command of these qualities:

Selfless dedication. “Any leader worth his salt must of course posses a certain amount of ego, a justifiable pride in his own accomplishments,” Ike writes. “But if he is a truly great leader, the cause must predominate over self.” Trump’s many critics misunderstood his sometimes blustery style as rooted in narcissism and egomania. His surprise electoral victory proves he was more effective at building a movement than they understood.

Courage and conviction. Eisenhower looks at French President de Gaulle, who he admits could be a difficult personality, but notes “We should not lose sight of the fact that he has many splendid characteristics, and the greatest of these has been his overriding determination to restore France to a position of glory and prestige.” Sound like anyone we know?

Fortitude. Eisenhower casts this essential quality as one of strong spirit, “the capacity to stand strong under reverses, to rise from defeat and do battle again, to learn from one’s mistakes and push on to the ultimate goal.” Regardless of how you feel about Trump, it’s undeniable he has exhibited this quality in both his business and political careers, in which he’s seen both difficult setbacks and remarkable successes.   

Humility. In his public persona, Trump is not the first person we’d think of when it comes to humility. But his victory speech in the early morning hours of November 9 was gracious and modest, giving generous credit to his opponent, his family and the many people who served his cause. He should seek out more opportunities to present this side of his character more fully.

Thorough homework. This is an area where Trump should up his game. Too often he’s been caught short by inadequate preparation on policy and details; instead, he opted for getting the big themes right. That worked on the campaign trail, but the office of president demands a higher standard. Fortunately, Trump appears to be balancing this tendency by surrounding himself with trusted and competent experts — and listening to their advice.

Power of persuasion. At this point, should anyone doubt that Trump is a master of persuasion, having dispatched an array of better funded and better organized candidates to secure first the Republican nomination and then the presidency? Trump’s skill as a persuader is unmatched, and went unappreciated by far too many of the critics who failed to take him seriously.

Trump’s background in business and television is, to say the least, an even more unconventional preparation for the presidency than was Eisenhower’s military career. The incoming president (and his advisors) should read Eisenhower’s brief essay for a roadmap of what it takes to succeed at the highest levels, from someone who had been there — and then work every day to embody those leadership qualities.

Parnell is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Captain who served in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is the author of the national bestseller, "Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan."


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