Recently, I was the guest on the “All Business” radio program on WTMJ-AM 620. I was interviewed on the topic of leadership.
Much to my surprise (but delight), one of the first questions was, “What kind of presidential leader will Donald Trump be?” On the program, I did not have enough time to fully elaborate on my reply, so I thought I would do so in this column, especially given the Trump administration is now in office and getting started.
What can we expect from Mr. Trump in his new role?
At the outset, I should let readers know I am no Johnny-come-lately to the issue of presidential personality. I have read extensively on the topic beginning in elementary school (I was Abraham Lincoln for my third grade Halloween party). The topic has long fascinated me. I own literally hundreds and hundreds of presidential biographies (much to my wife’s dismay). Later, given my education, training and experience as an industrial-organizational psychologist, I continued to read in the area with increased insight and interest.
While there have been many books written about presidential personality, a handful have attempted to get “inside the heads” of the presidents from a psychological perspective. The first book of that kind with which I am familiar was Richard Neustadt’s 1960 book, “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents.” As the book implies, Neustadt emphasized the roles power and authority play in presidential performance.
In 1972, James David Barber wrote his seminal book, “The Presidential Character: Predicting Presidential Performance in the White House.” This book was more psychological in nature. Barber posited a two-factor typology in which presidents varied by temperament to the extent that they were: 1. Active versus passive and 2. Positive versus negative. Four basic “types” were, therefore, possible: 1. Adaptive (positive and active), 2. Compliant (positive and passive), 3. Compulsive (negative and active), and 4. Withdrawn (negative and passive).
In 1996, Stanley Renshon wrote the book, “Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates.” Renshon highlighted “character” as a foundational element. He outlined a basic model of character and emphasized that presidential performance is primarily a function of decision judgment and political leadership as driven and influenced by character. Ultimately, Renshon’s book explored the issue of “psychological suitability” (Is it possible to discern, prior to the election, if a candidate is psychologically suited to be president?).
In 2004, in their book, “Personality, Character and Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents,” Steven Rubenzer and Thomas Faschingbauer, proposed a model for predicting presidential performance based on statistical analysis of presidents’ personality characteristics (measured via evaluation of writings, speeches, etc.) and performance in the Oval Office. Six characteristics were most predictive in their study: 1. Character, 2. Neuroticism, 3. Extraversion, 4. Openness to experience, 5. Agreeableness, and 6. Conscientiousness. The core of their book was the series of descriptive categories within which they slotted the presidents, including: Dominators, Good Guys, Actors, Maintainers and Philosophers.
The June 2016 cover story of The Atlantic was titled, “The mind of Donald Trump: A psychologist’s guide to an extraordinary personality.” In the article, Dan McAdams, using the framework utilized by Rubenzer and Faschingbauer, took a long, hard look at Mr. Trump. McAdams discussed, at length and with vivid illustrations and examples, Trump’s disposition, mental habits, motivations and self-conception. It is a fascinating article that explores him from the inside out; I highly encourage BizTimes readers, if they have not already read it, to track it down.
In tracking down McAdams’ article, readers, though, had better brace themselves for his conclusion. In his article, as he analyzed Trump, McAdams compared Trump to our nation’s past presidents. To whom was Trump most similar in terms of his temperament? McAdams’ conclusion was that Trump combines the disagreeable, suspicious, thin-skinned and “gotcha” tendencies of Richard Nixon with the venturesome, bold and daring traits of Andrew Jackson. In other words, Richard Nixon x Andrew Jackson = Donald Trump.
Trump’s unpredictable and unconventional path to the presidency is exactly what got him there. It is why his backers find him appealing. It is why political insiders from both parties find him unsettling.
What can we expect from President Trump in the White House? The guess here is we can expect more of what we have seen so far. For as Tom Griffin, the owner of the Menie Estate in Aberdeen, Scotland, the real estate property Trump sought to purchase in 2006 to build a luxury golf resort, observed after meeting with him, “It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump.”
Trump’s presidential “act” is about to unfold. Stay tuned. It is likely to be a wild ride.
-Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D. is president and chief executive officer of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (www.od-consultants.com). He can be reached at 888.827.1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com.