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Commentary

Donald Trump’s 3 biggest leadership mistakes

Jul 02, 2015

The last couple of weeks has been a tough-y for Donald Trump. On Wednesday, Macy’s (m) announced it will remove Trump’s signature merchandise from its shelves, after the real estate magnate and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful called Mexicans and other immigrant groups “rapists and killers.” The move came the same week NBC and Univision cut ties to Trump’s television properties.

The problem with The Donald isn’t just what he said, but how badly he handled the aftermath; anyone interested in what it takes to lead a business or an entire country, as Trump aspires to do, can learn from where he went wrong. So here is a look at 3 of his biggest leadership mistakes.

Going off script

Trump’s remarks shouldn’t really come as a surprise to most people. He has always been outspoken about his outlandish beliefs and never minces his words. The problem is that not only does he need to maintain a positive public image for the success of his lucrative television career and consumer brand, but he’s also running for president of a country conceived in diversity and whose voter base includes the very immigrants whom he insulted.

Given those factors, which Trump cannot possibly be unaware of, the only possible explanation for why he said what he did is that his passions outweighed his common sense. A better leader would ideally have been more open-minded but at the very least have kept his mouth shut in the face of uncertainty.

Letting your ego take over

We all make mistakes, but being able to recover from those mistakes is critical for good leadership. After Trump put his foot in his mouth, he should have apologized immediately. An apology would not have completely erased the trauma that his remarks caused to many people, but it would have gone a long way toward assuaging their anger toward him. It might even have created a valuable dialogue in public about Trump’s beliefs and allowed him to engage with voters on the issue of immigration as opposed to just being vilified for his comments.

A smart leader would have apologized quickly, as everyone from CEOs to presidents have done in the past to correct their mistakes. That doesn’t mean Trump isn’t entitled to hold a particular view, but if he wants to be the leader of the free world, he needs to exhibit the willingness to evolve and consider other points of view. A swift, serious apology was an essential step in that direction, but one that he hasn’t taken, at least not yet.

Doubling down on a bad bet

When Univision last month announced that it would no longer carry the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants on its network, Trump should have realized the seriousness of the situation and immediately made moves to repair his fractured relationship with the company. He might have mitigated the damage if he had issued an apology, but instead he sued Univision for $500 million.

This is clearly horrifically bad public relations. It makes him look arrogant and vindictive, and obliterates any possibility of the public forgiving him. The Donald dug himself even deeper into his self-created hole. By doubling down on a bad bet, Trump has exhibited the worst trait any leader can exhibit – blind ego.

Trump has been through challenges before and even his wildest statements have only enhanced his business celebrity, if not his seriousness on the political stage. But this time around he may have gone too far and will pay a heavy price for shooting from the hip, and refusing to correct it.

Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. Kumar does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.

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