Can Trump learn from Trudeau?

Written by
Susanne Braun

27 Apr 2017

27 Apr 2017 • by Susanne Braun

Trump and Trudeau first met face-to-face in February 2017, about a month after the inauguration of the new US President, in what has been described as a diplomatic balancing act. Economic relations between Canada and the US are tight, but the leaders of these two nations could not be more different from each other. Trudeau stands for openness to immigration, diversity and feminism, and welcomes refugees. Trump bans immigrants, attacks public healthcare and pursues plans for a border wall to Mexico. Since taking office, Trump has caused a massive upset in the country with his proposed changes. Indisputably, Trump’s leadership touches everyone’s life in the US and around the world, but not necessarily in a good way. 

What lessons can he learn from Trudeaus leadership style?

Good leaders put others first. Trump’s actions seem to be primarily motivated by his personal needs and interests. People see him as extrovert, but not particularly honest or humble nor agreeable or caring. Linguistic analyses of his speeches show traces of narcissistic leadership. Trump boasted more and used more first-person pronouns than any other of the Republican contenders in the race for US Presidency. Trudeau shows humility in his everyday actions. He personally welcomed refugees into the country, identified himself as a feminist, and demonstrated care and love for his family publicly. 

Trudeau comes across as a servant leader. Robert K. Greenleaf coined this term to describe leaders to whom the happiness and wellbeing of the people they lead are more important than their own ambitions. Servant leaders oppose the typical image of independent power holders. Their first goal is to understand how others think and feel, how they can help them to grow - and eventually to become leaders as well.  


Good leaders create a sense of who we are

Trump’s views and actions divide the nation. Thousands of US citizens marched against him on ‘Not My President Day’. Women wore pink ‘pussyhats’, outraged by Trump’s comments that it is ok to “grab them [women] by the pussy”. Trump is a president for some, but not for others. He has not united the country. Instead of giving the American people a sense of who they are, Trump creates a ‘They vs. Us’ mentality with travel bans and walls. Identity is relational and it builds on the social groups that we belong to. The social identity approach to leadership suggests that leaders are identity creators. Good leaders are meant to understand the identities of their people not as a constraint, but an opportunity for integration. 

Trudeau has a new and radically different approach to identity creation. He described Canada as a “post-national state” with “no core identity, no mainstream” and actively handles questions of a collective identity for all Canadians.

Good leaders build strong teams

Good leadership is rarely based on the views and actions of a single individual. In a complex world, leaders need people around them with expertise in different areas, representing a range of different social groups, beliefs, values, and perspectives. Trudeau's new cabinet was sworn in with equal numbers of men and women and an eye toward regional balance. His interaction with the leadership team around him has been described as transparent, accessible and collaborative. Team Trump, conversely, is predominantly rich, white and male. Trump has struggled with accusations that he ‘keeps it in the family’, appointing his son-in-law to a senior advisory position, and the resignations of key staff such as national security adviser Michael Flynn. 

What he can learn from Trudeau is to bring a strong and diverse team together, and to lead them towards a shared vision for the country.