3 Leadership Lessons Fiorina Used to Trump Trump

For quite some time, Donald Trump’s message has been gaining support amongst the American people. Despite several verbal miscues and apparent character gaffs, his “Make America Great Again” slogan, “tell it like it is” tone and willingness to stand up and fight has won over several (albeit soft) supporters.

In a nutshell, Americans seem to be starved for leadership. They have been flocking away from anyone they considered a politician and towards anyone who demonstrates leadership. And leadership is exactly what Carly Fiorina used to trump Donald Trump at last week’s CNN debate. Here’s are the 3 leadership lessons she used.

3 Leadership Lessons Fiorina Used to Trump Trump - David DeWolf

Fiorina was a fighter, but maintained her respect for others.

Like it or not, many Americans have been attracted to Trump’s “in your face,” “I won’t back down” attitude. While many admit it to be a bit brash, they openly admit that they would rather have brash than soft. We want leaders that we can believe in, who we know will stand in the face of adversity.

Fiorina has answered the bell – and upped the ante. She refused to back down to anyone – even Trump. But she did so in a respectful way. She was firm and willing to stand up in the face of adversity. She did so without stooping to personal attacks. Just look at her simple response when she was practically begged into entering into a mud fight with Trump about his personal attacks on her.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

That was it. Simple, to the point, and refusing to stoop to Trump’s level.

Leaders are strong in the face of adversity but use their strength in order to build up others and assert change, not tear others down.

Fiorina was direct, but backed it up with specifics.

In order to lead, you must communicate where you’re going. The best way to do this is with a simple, direct message that paints a vivid picture of what it will look like when you get it. Trump has been rising above the political gamesmanship by cutting the political talking points and painting a picture of prosperity and greatness. Regardless of whether folks agree with all of his positions, his vision has resonated as a simple, direct, and compelling vision.

Fiorina has cast her own, similar vision, but has backed it up with a plan to get there. Consider the contrast between Trump’s and Fiorina’s strategies on dealing with Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Whereas Trump painted a picture of Russia once again respecting American power and he and Putin “getting along,” Fiorina hit hard and backed up her answers with a strategy for getting to that point.

“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet,” she said. “I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. . . Russia is a bad actor,” Fiorina confidently asserted on the debate stage, “but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side.”

Leaders cast a clear vision of where they are headed and back it up with an achievable strategy that will get them there.

Fiorina was firm, but convicted by a moral code.

The foundation of leadership is integrity. Integrity is defined by consistency of character. It is doing what you say, and saying what you do. It is the integration of all aspects of your life and it is the foundation of character that allows others to not only believe in where you’re going, but also believe that you will do the right thing.

In contrast to Trump, Fiorina made clear that she was personally convicted by a moral code that guides her life. She refused to stoop to the same political correctness that Trump has turned his back on, but went far beyond his talking points in order to convey her deeply held convictions and the life events that helped form them. Fiorina directly challenged her opponents to see their moral shortcomings and face the moral decay that they have fostered.

Leaders are guided by a moral code of what’s right and what’s wrong. They hold true to their underlying beliefs in the face of adversity.

In a nutshell the difference between the leadership shown by Trump and Fiorina is character. Whereas Trump’s is continually in question, Fiorina seemed to put an exclamation point on the point that she is full of it. She has positioned herself as the epitome of humble confidence. She demonstrated that she’s willing to fight, but only for a just cause; that she’s inspired by her vision for America, but is not delusional in believing that she can figure it out along the way; and that she’s convicted by a moral code that will hold her true to what she believes in.

Are you leading with character? Or are you just a bulldog?


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  • Mark Kalpakgian

    Good article David. I do disagree with Carly on her point of not talking to Putin. Without diplomacy, flexing your military muscles may unnecessarily provoke and this doesn’t seem like great leadership to me. Its Machiavellian and against your leadership principle of humble confidence since it lacks the humility part. Leadership requires influence and its hard to influence others when you don’t talk to them. In contrast, think of how we have been able to start to rebuild our relationship with Cuba. Pope Francis casts a different vision than pushing people around and not talking to them to get your point across.

    • David DeWolf

      I won’t claim to be an expert in foreign policy, but, I do consider my self a pretty good negotiator and I will tell you that I’m certain that there are circumstances when playing hard ball and reestablishing your strength of position is the right (and sometimes only) way to reset negotiations. In my experience, this strategy is best when you need to significantly change the perception of the balance of power (in other words, the other party has a strong belief that they have no reason to negotiate at all and thus conversations will be fruitless).

      I’m not suggesting that this is, or isn’t, one of those situations (I’m not foreign policy expert), but, I will say that the way Putin has thumbed his nose at the rest of the world and the US has continually backed down and proven that we won’t hold our line throughout the world stage, suggests to me that it is reasonable for someone to come to the conclusion that we need to bunker down and prove our resolve before we enter back into negotiations with Russia.

      I can respect the fact that Carly has come to that conclusion and is willing to take a strong stance even if I disagree with it. I also respect the fact that she’s willing to make a judgement call and share it with her constituents. I’d respect her even more if her judgement evolves as she learns more (whereas most pundits will criticize her for flip-flopping). I would respectfully disagree that this stance shows lack of humility, or, that it shows a propensity to want to “push people around”.

      Leadership, in many ways, is about judgement and character. Good people will differ on various opinions. I’m not looking for someone that shares my opinion on various policy issues. Instead, I’m looking for a leader who makes sound and reasonable judgements and a solid character.

      I’d also caution you against using the Pope as an example of leadership. While he undoubtedly has led on many things and we can all learn much from him, his infallibility is limited to the issues of faith and morals and I do not look to him as a role model in all things. I think his leadership style has many strengths, but, also many weaknesses.

  • Mark Kalpakgian

    I agree with your response and I probably should have been more clear on my reference to Pope Francis. My point there was merely that he led the way of dialogue between the US and Cuba. That was in stark contrast to Fiorina’s “no talk” motto regarding Putin. The dialogue that has resulted in opening back relations between Cuba and the US is a sign of great leadership and it started with talking to your enemies not avoiding them. It started with encounter, with openness, with optimism all traits of great leaders.

  • Chirag Chandani

    I think that the most powerful country in the world should have a leader who is not brash and not submissive but conclusive as a whole, take larger decisions!!