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Donald Trump is a maverick leader, but you can disrupt in other ways

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I write this diary entry just as maverick leader Donald Trump acquired the title president-elect. If this were a written journal that sentence would have been followed by a number of exclamation marks, a rub of the eyes and a comedy-moment double-take.

By the time you read this, the news will have sunk in. Politicians and pundits the world over will still be asking, “just how did he do it?” So much has been and will be said about the man I’m going to resist the temptation as best I can to join the mudslingers. I don’t believe in jumping on a soap box and sharing political opinion in a forum such as this, though my passionate feelings may creep through. If so, I apologise.

Instead I would like to step back from the emotion and incredulity that much of the world is feeling and analyse what can be learned. I stress this is divorced from what is just or unjust about Trump’s ascension to power, more a rumination on leadership qualities, the power of reputation and disruption rolled up into a man with a questionable past, equally questionable hair, morals, experience, oh and who come January will be the leader of our “free” world.

On the one hand Trump comes across as a sexist, racist, self-seeking autocratic maverick leader, dismissing detractors with defamatory statements and claiming he’s the victim of a rigged system when things don’t go his way. On the other hand, he’s also seen as the shrewdest of businesspeople – an entrepreneur happy to diversify to make a buck and a hard and powerful negotiator. He’s charismatic to the point that his followers don’t actually need to think too hard about the meaning behind the words that come out of his mouth.

In his acceptance speech the same people who booed Hillary Clinton were cheering when Trump congratulated her for being a formidable opponent in the leadership challenge. People don’t listen too hard to Trump, preferring instead to follow. He speaks his mind and plainly. He plays to his audience with crowd-pleasing promises, many of which I pray will remain just that: promises, rather than actual deeds. He sadly has the ear of the right-leaning common working man. He plans to sweep aside anything that stands in his way – be they health reforms, environmental policies. He revels in controversy. Clearly he is prepared to bend the rules to serve his needs and happy to switch tactics on a dime. Simply he outsmarted the competition, whether consciously or by gut instinct.

So what can we learn from this maverick leader?

One cannot deny that Trump has achieved his presidency by thinking like a business leader, not a career politician. He formulated a grand vision and mission and adopted a single-minded strategy. He assembled a body of people who’ve tirelessly followed his lead. He knows his customers/audience/voters. He has the measure of his competitors. He’s honed his sales pitch, appealing to a perceived set of deep-seated needs and responding with easy-to-understand solutions. He communicates simply and plainly. He has been agile. He is famous for being a man who gets things done.

Trump is a maverick, challenging the status quo and disrupting the system. If you excuse the pun, his trump card has been as a champion of change to a dissatisfied electorate.

But it’s not only what you do, it’s how you do it. Trump’s way is certainly not my way. Or really I mean not our way at TaxCalc. Obviously I concur with the principles of strong vision, strategy, leadership, meeting customers’ needs, being agile – and I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of disruption. Being game-changing is vital and look what it can do, it can change the world. Take Amazon, Apple, Google, Uber, Dyson. Over twenty years ago an adman called Jean-Marie Dru wrote a book called “Disruption, Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace”. The company he went on to lead, TBWA became famous for its advertising for Apple. Disruption as part of an integrated business strategy can be powerful.

At TaxCalc we see ourselves as game-changing but we prefer to use the positive interpretation of disruption, that is innovation. Our motto at TaxCalc is “innovation in practice”. It’s more than a mantra. It’s a spirit, a mindset. It means always looking at ways to improve everything we do to best serve our customers. Internally it helps to create a dynamic culture and externally to build our reputation. “Innovation in practice” is also an ambition that works across every department, every strand of our business: product development, customer support, quality assurance, sales, marketing, thought leadership. In forthcoming diary entries I’ll talk about how we use “innovation in practice” as a branding, sales, and organisational tool to powerful effect. It will feature heavily in my diaries because we live and breathe it.

Trump the maverick leader has pulled off the big prize and will be known as one of history’s greatest disruptors. But at what cost? Our environment? International relations? Trade? Healthcare?

Though Trump is a one-off, I have worked with people who share many of his less attractive qualities and who, by dint of naked ambition combined with ruthless intelligence have become incredibly successful. I ask you how much do you want it? What price do you put on it? In my eyes, innovation is about finding new ways to attain betterment for the many not the few. Given the challenges we face in this new world order, I hope we can all innovate our way to a better place.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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