Leadership has been defined as a process through which a person influences and motivates others to get involved in accomplishment of a particular task. This single definition, although universally accepted, fails to define the particular paths and ways of people who are deemed as great leaders. All great leaders had something unique about them that helped them to lead masses to innovation and new ideologies (Alain, 2012). But underlying all of the technical theory and discussion are a series of skills and techniques that are common to successful leaders (Grout & Fisher, 2011).
Distinguished leaders are well known not only within their own field but also all over the world. There are business leaders, spiritual leaders, political leaders, sports leaders and military leaders. Business leaders always attract my attention more than the others because they are highly innovative and competitive in the demanding marketplace of the modern world. They either have changed the face of business or change the way we live through their business empires. One particularly successful business leader who inspires me is Donald Trump.
“The Apprentice” and Donald Trump
One may wonder why I choose to write about Donald Trump and how Donald Trump inspires me, especially when there are more renowned business leaders out there such as Henry Ford, Walt Disney and Bill Gates. It began in 2004 when I was in my first year studying at the National University of Malaysia (UKM). One night during one of the weekends at my brother’s home, when I was studying in front of the television, The Apprentice premiere episode was shown on television. That was the first time I know about Donald Trump. I had always watched many reality television shows, but this one for me was a bit unique because it was the first reality series that relates to business challenges rather than physical challenges. I was totally absorbed with the show. Week after week, season after season, I would never miss the show. The great thing was that my father was also much attracted to the show and would watch it together with me, which convinced me that the show must be good.
What attracted me about The Apprentice is the way the show portrays a group of candidates vying to earn a place in one of Donald Trump's organizations. The candidates have either good experience or education in business and come from backgrounds in various enterprises. In order to win the title of Donald Trump’s Apprentice, the candidates must not only have good business skills, but also leadership skills that would bring their team to success.
The Apprentice taught me a lot about leadership. In each and every episode, Donald Trump would provide leadership lessons through his words of wisdom to the candidates and the audience. He would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates as well as their mistakes so that audience can learn from the show. From time to time, he would show his success and wealth to motivate other people to become like him.
Donald Trump was born of a wealthy New York City real-estate developer, but he took his own effort to earn all that he has now. He started his business career in an office he shared with his father in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. He worked with his father for five years, where they were busy making deals together. His father was his mentor and he learned a tremendous amount about every aspect of the construction industry from his father. Donald Trump then entered the very different world of Manhattan real estate.
In New York City, the Trump signature is synonymous with the most prestigious of addresses. Among them is the world-renowned Fifth Avenue skyscraper, Trump Tower. Donald Trump is also known as a world-class golf course developer, with award-winning courses in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Canouan Island in the Grenadines and one in Aberdeen, Scotland as well as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Donald Trump is also an accomplished and best-selling author and has had numerous best sellers including The Art of the Deal, which is considered a business classic, The Art of the Comeback, The America We Deserve, How To Get Rich, Think Like a Billionaire, Trump 101, Why We Want You To Be Rich, Think Big, Never Give Up, and Think Like a Champion.
In a departure from his real estate acquisitions, Donald Trump and the NBC Television Network are partners in the ownership and broadcast rights for the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA Pageants. In January 2004, he joined forces with Mark Burnett Productions and NBC to produce and star in The Apprentice. The show quickly became popular on television, including Malaysian television. Trump’s production company, Trump Productions, is based in Los Angeles. He also had a successful radio programme for several years.
Today, Donald Trump is valued at USD2.7 billion. This does not mean that Donald Trump has never had his downturn. Throughout his business career, he has been bankrupt four times. How can a man who has been bankrupt so many times remain a multi-billionaire? Donald Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times, in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. All of these bankruptcies were connected to over-leveraged casino and hotel properties in Atlantic City, all of which are now operated under the banner of Trump Entertainment Resorts. He has never filed for personal bankruptcy, an important distinction when considering his ability to emerge relatively unscathed, at least financially. He used the laws of the country to his advantage. Trump’s name and image have also helped him survive each bankruptcy and come out on top. He is able to demand a high percentage of reorganization equity based on the value his brand brings to an operation. (O’Connor, 2011)
Donald Trump is the very definition of the American success story. He has continually set new standards of excellence while expanding his interests nationally and internationally. He is personally involved in everything that his name represents. He is an exemplary businessman and with his leadership skills has managed to bring him to the level of success that he is on now.
How Donald Trump Inspires Me
Donald Trump’s leadership style has turned The Apprentice into a powerful magnet for thousands of young entrepreneurs, many of whom credit Trump with teaching them important lessons for business success (The Entertainment Magazine On Line, 2005). Donald Trump is known for his eccentricity and unconventional business practices. He exhibits an unconventional leadership style, which is characterized by many characteristics. One of those is the need for power. This is exhibited by every piece of real estate he owns. Every building or golf course has his name on it. He is eccentric, powerful, but yet he makes very smart business decisions. He is also a risk taker. All these leadership skills have made him a very well recognized business leader and one of the United States most known billionaires.
Donald Trump is successful in almost every endeavour he takes on. His leadership styles have made him rich, powerful, famous and known throughout the world. His long time employees describe him as a strong yet merciful leader. According to his employees, he is a far more righteous leader than he is given credit. His employees say he works hard to keep his kindness out of the spotlight, but in truth he is far more generous than his reputation would lead anyone to believe (Shetty, 2011). Donald Trump’s leadership style truly inspires me to become a great and successful leader like him.
Where Great Ideas Come From in My Organization
I believe that in each and every organization, the leaders, the culture and the values are all important and linked together. Great ideas from my organization, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, come from the combination of the strengths of the leaders, the culture and the values. Great ideas cannot come from only one of the three elements as they are all interrelated.
Leaders influence organizational culture. They also shape and mould the values, basic assumptions and beliefs shared by the members of the organization. Yafang Tsai (2011) during his research found that culture is socially learned and transmitted by members and it provides the rules for behaviour within organizations. The definition of organizational culture is the belief that can guide staff in knowing what to do and what not to do, including practices, values and assumptions about their work. The core values of an organization begin with its leadership, which then evolves to a leadership style. Subordinates are led by these values and the behaviour of leaders, such that the behaviour of both parties should become increasingly in line. When strong unified behaviour, values and beliefs have been developed, a strong organizational culture emerges. Leaders have to appreciate their function in maintaining an organization's culture. This would in return ensure consistent behaviour between members of the organization, reducing conflicts and creating a healthy working environment for employees. When a healthy working environment is established, leaders and employees are able to generate great ideas. That is why all three elements of leaders, culture and values are equally important in any organizations, including mine.
Mistakes Made by Leaders
Leaders are not perfect human beings. Leaders also make mistakes like us. People working under a leader are those who can see most of the mistakes done by their leader. I have witnessed some leaders making mistakes that could have been avoided if they want to and these mistakes could also be seen made by the candidates in The Apprentice.
First, I see that many leaders fail to define goals. When people do not have clear goals, they muddle through their day. Workers cannot be productive if they have no idea what they are working for or what their work means. They also cannot prioritize their workload effectively, meaning that projects and tasks get completed in the wrong order. Leaders need to specify where the team is going and align the team's goals to the mission of the organization.
Second, many leaders hold excessive pride and arrogance with a know-it-all attitude. The downfall of many leaders is that their early successes begin to inflate their egos. They forget their roots, thinking that they are invincible. They stop asking questions and stop listening when workers and key stakeholders tell them something they need to hear. They do not believe other people because they think they have all the answers, that they are the smartest guys in the room. The power and authority turns into a false sense of security. The leaders began to believe that they were superior to other people and institutions and that they could do no wrong. They miss critical warning signs given by other people. This happens because it is the easiest way of playing a role of a leader for it takes only threats and very little thinking. A leader cannot let ego gets in the way. These leaders need to re-establish a high level of trust, with two-way communication and very clear roles and responsibilities. Employees need to feel they can make suggestions and decisions and have some measure of control.
Third, many leaders do not practise what they ask other people to practise. If a leader makes personal telephone calls during work time or speaks negatively about a higher level officer, how can they expect other people not to do this too? A leader needs to be a role model for his or her team. This means that if workers are required to stay late, a leader should also stay late to help them. The same goes for the attitude. If a leader is negative some of the time, he or she cannot expect other people not to be negative. This is because the team is watching the leader all the time. To shape the workers’ behaviour, the leader must start with his or her own behaviour so that they will follow suit.
Recommended Resources for Future Leaders
In this borderless world nowadays, it is easier to get resources for anything. However, I still recommend people to do lots and lots of reading as I believe knowledge is still mostly gained through reading. Among the reading materials that I would recommend are leadership books authored by leadership gurus such as John Baldoni, John C. Maxwell and John Kotter.
John Baldoni’s book published in 2009, “Lead by Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results” demonstrates how leaders leverage their best attributes to overcome their shortcomings in order to build trust and drive results. According to him, leadership starts with a person’s character, which defines who we are and forms the basis for leadership.
John C. Maxwell authored many good books focusing on leadership which include The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998) that is helpful in identifying and aiding people in the understanding of leadership characteristics that a leader must have in order to be successful in leading their organization. The Complete 101 Collection (2003) provides fundamentals that leaders need to know about attitude, relationships, equipping, leadership, mentoring and success. The Difference Maker (2006) highlighted that attitude will distinguish two people who have the same skills and abilities.
John Kotter is an expert in change management. His international bestseller, Leading Change (1996), outlined an actionable, 8-step process for implementing successful transformations. Our Iceberg is Melting (2006) puts the 8-step process within a tale of penguins.
There are also many online resources about leadership for people who are not really into books. For people who are not interested in reading, you can always watch shows like The Apprentice that will teach you a lot about leadership. In Malaysia, there was a show similar to The Apprentice called The Firm. Aside from television shows, there are also videos on leadership lessons over the internet.
What I Do to Keep Developing as a Leader
Humans are not made perfect. Therefore no matter how much I learn, I still feel that it is not enough. I continue reading, reading and reading many materials on leadership in order to gain knowledge about leadership. I know mere reading is also not enough. Therefore I take effort to acquire advice from people who have leadership experiences, especially senior officers that I meet at work or even older family members. I like to ask people to share their experiences because I want to gain knowledge about leadership from them.
Additionally, to train myself in leadership, I like to volunteer myself for a leadership role especially during on-the-job training. As I consider communication as one of the most important elements in leadership, I like to undertake the task of doing presentation or giving talk as a way to improve my communication skills. I always try to recognize any opportunities to lead at work in the hope that one day I will become a fully-fledged leader, just as Donald Trump is in the United States real estate business industry.
Summary and Conclusion
Some people may still wonder how a business leader like Donald Trump can inspire me, especially when I do not have interest in business but instead interest in diplomacy and administration. What are important for me are the leadership lessons which I obtain from Donald Trump’s leadership style that I have watched in The Apprentice. He may be a leader in the business industry, but I also have the possibility of becoming the leader of Malaysia’s public service. Therefore I think that there is nothing wrong with learning from an American business leader as long as I know which lessons I should use for myself. Muslims were even encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad himself to "seek learning even as far as China".
In conclusion, there is no limit to learning. If you want to become a better leader, then first you have to become a better learner. No one can ever be a perfect leader. Only by continuous learning can we improve ourselves to become a better leader in the future. As Donald Trump says, "You can't know it all. No matter how smart you are, no matter how comprehensive your education, no matter how wide ranging your experience, there is simply no way to acquire all the wisdom you need to make your business thrive."
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Nur Diyana Binti Badarudin
DPA Bil. 1/2012