Will Trump be a good president? Wrong question.

Everyone who hasn’t already made up their mind is currently wondering whether Trump would make a good president. Despite the collective interest in this question, I submit that the election has raised another, equally fundamental question—and one that Trump himself should be even more concerned about: Is Trump a good businessman?

On the one hand, the answer is obvious. He has made billions and billions of dollars, which is billions and billions more than me or most other people. So, from a financial standpoint, the answer is an obvious and resounding yes.

And yet, I submit that the events of this election cycle have made it an important question to ask, if only because presidents have to do more than develop brilliant policies. They have to run what amounts to one of the biggest and most powerful organizations in the world.

So let’s ask the question. Let me simply present the following ten competencies, all of which any business school professor would say everyone who runs any organization must have. Have Trump’s behaviors on the campaign trail suggested he has them? You be the judge:

  1. Negotiating effectively. The best businesspeople find ways to not only claim value from others but create value that benefits their counterparts as well as themselves. Trump has certainly done the former, but has he done the latter? You be the judge.
  2. Listening to advisors. The best businesspeople know how to close their mouths and open their ears when trusted advisers speak. Has Trump shown a propensity to listen? Your call.
  3. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities. The best businesspeople make it crystal-clear what everyone in their organization is supposed to be doing, and how everyone’s role is distinguished from everyone else’s. What, if anything, do the well-documented turf battles in Trump’s organization say about his ability to draw up roles and responsibilities?
  4. Understanding and growing the customer base. The best businesspeople appeal to the largest and most diverse set group of customers, in this case voters. Has Trump?
  5. Building a strong financial base. The best businesspeople establish the strongest possible financial foundation for their organization, in this case the most extensive fundraising operation they can. Has Trump done that? You decide.
  6. Communicating clearly and consistently with the market. The best businesspeople develop a message and stick to it, whatever direction the wind blows or spirit moves. Has Trump been clear and/or consistent in his policy prescriptions?
  7. Communicating clearly and consistently within the organization. The best businesspeople also deploy their excellent communication skills within their organizations, e.g. by making sure that their employees always know exactly what they’re about to say and do. Has Trump?
  8. Forming mutually-beneficial partnerships. The best businesspeople identify people who could helpfully support one another, in this case people like Paul Ryan and John McCain. Has Trump effectively partnered with such parties? You be the judge.
  9. Promoting based on talent. The best businesspeople promote the best people as their closest advisors. They avoid the temptation of nepotism, trusting the people with the best ideas rather than the best name. Has Trump?
  10. Responding to market data. The best businesspeople make a course correction when the market indicates that things aren’t working. How responsive has Trump been to his poll numbers?

I put these questions to you because it’s important for each of us to answer for ourselves. And I put #10 last because it’s the one about which I personally feel most equivocal, the last few weeks having provided some indication that Trump is charting a course correction.

So what do you think? Is Trump a good businessman? Can he run a big organization, be it a business organization or a big public organization? If he becomes the president of our country, let us all hope so.

To tell the truth? Three Republicans, three approaches

Against my better judgment, I’ve now written several posts about the current presidential election. For example, here’s the latest. The references to negotiation are just too good and too frequent to ignore! So why not keep going?

The three remaining candidates for the Republication nomination—Kasich, Cruz, and Trump—embody three distinct ways of dealing with the truth. Since most of us encounter ethical quandaries daily—and since the way we approach them can easily make life more negotiable—we might as well take this opportunity to talk honesty. So, we’ll use the three Republican candidates to explore three distinct ways of dealing with the truth.

Before tackling this treacherous topic, let me just say that I’m not personally labeling anyone a sinner or a saint (nor trying to impose my own moral view). I’m just using the public image of all three candidates—as constructed by popular news outlets and the politicians themselves—to highlight three particular approaches to the truth. So, if you don’t agree with my characterizations, I would have to refer you back to the popular news outlets and political maneuvers from whence they came. And with that, gulp, here goes…

  1. Kasich: John Kasich portrays himself—and is often portrayed as—the morally-upstanding guy in the room. As an example of his ethical image, he recently told Wisconsin voters that the GOP’s promise to repeal Obamacare was “stupid.” Anyone who understands the probability of repealing Obamacare under Obama can diagnose this statement for what it is: the truth. And yet, anyone who understands how primary elections work can diagnose it for what it’s likely to do: irritate Republican voters. Thus, with this statement at least, Kasich embodies the morally “pure” way of dealing with a tradeoff between truth and expediency: simply telling the truth.
  2. Cruz: Ted Cruz doesn’t portray himself this way, but Donald Trump has often called him “Lyin’ Ted.” Though one can never be sure, there are various suggestions that the moniker may have a kernel of truth—a questionable Facebook post about Rubio, the questionable circumstances surrounding scantily-clad photos of Ms. Trump, or the questionable phone call to Iowa voters about Ben Carson. To elaborate on the last, Cruz staffers apparently called Carson supporters to tell them—falsely—that Carson was planning to quit the race. If Cruz was behind for any of these choices—and again, we can never be sure—then he would embody the opposite, anti-Kasich way of dealing with the tradeoff: stretching the truth in service of political expediency.
  3. Trump: Trump embodies the most interesting approach to the truth: taking one side of an issue and then the other side so rapidly and seamlessly that no one knows which one he believes. Thus, no one can definitively say whether he was telling the truth. Supporters can claim that he was and opponents that he wasn’t—everyone’s right! In this way, Trump has found an innovative way of transcending the tradeoff faced by Kasich and Cruz, insisting on neither a disadvantageous truth like Kasich nor a potentially advantageous lie like Cruz. I think it’s fair to say that his dexterity with the truth is one of the many factors contributing to his ongoing appeal.

Do these approaches matter to our own lives, despite our lack of presidential intentions? Well, I’m assuming we don’t often face the specific tradeoff between truth and votes. But we often face the general tradeoff between truth and self-interest, or at least expediency. Each of us must come to our own conclusions about how to handle these situations, but the three Republicans offer three distinct models for dealing with the truth—honesty, deception, or some ways of transcending the tradeoff. Here’s hoping their approaches can help us forge a path through our own moral minefields.

Are the best negotiators just like Trump?

Since it’s election season and Donald Trump often pins his qualifications on his negotiation prowess, this post will depart from my normal focus on solving everyday problems. Instead, I’d like to explore the qualities of the very best negotiators, comparing and contrasting them with the Trump persona we all know well.

I hope you’ll forgive the diversion, but I think it’s useful for making life negotiable.

The Donald is a very wealthy man who often attributes his own success to his negotiation skills. Since none of us knows what he does at the bargaining table, he could very well be right. For the very same reason, however, we should all pause before leaping to the conclusion that his public behaviors reflect the features of successful negotiators. Are the best negotiators carbon copies of the public Trump? Well, several decades of negotiation research would use words like the following to describe the very best negotiators; you can judge for yourself whether they also describe the public Trump:

  1. Humble: The best negotiators don’t brag, nor suggest that they know everything. Quite the opposite, they try to deemphasize their past achievements, knowing that braggadocio will only raise their counterpart’s hackles. Indeed, they actively shift the focus away from themselves toward their counterparts, assuming that they absolutely have to learn by listening. Out-hearing rather than out-talking their counterpart, they know, is the key to negotiation triumph.
  2. Enlightened: The best negotiators are concerned about their counterparts’ outcomes in addition to their own. But it’s not an act of charity—it’s the enlightened realization that making their negotiation counterpart better off tends to make them better off too. It’s the fully-rational understanding that a small slice of a big pie is usually bigger than a big slice of a small pie.
  3. Creative: The best negotiators approach problems with an eye to uncovering creative solutions. In particular, they spend most of their time looking for “out-of-the box” ways to help themselves and their counterparts both achieve their goals at the same time. I’m just guessing here, but building a big wall is probably not the first solution to our immigration challenges that they would entertain.
  4. Balanced: The best negotiators know that negotiation is not a byword for aggression. They realize that negotiations sometimes call for competitive behavior but often call for cooperation, and they know how to use both in good time and measure. Ultimately, they gauge their success by the extent to which they created value and built a relationship, not the depths to which they crushed their counterpart.
  5. ProblemFocused: In the words of Getting to Yes, the best negotiators focus on the problem instead of the people. In others words, they never get personal. Disaster, moron, dummy, lightweight, loser. These are not words you’d often hear them using.

Are these the qualities of the public Trump? You can be the judge. I suspect you know my answer, though I hope you also know that I don’t aspire to trash the man or his negotiation skills—with his billions and billions (and my distinct lack thereof), he must be doing something right. My goal is simply to suggest that anyone who aspires to make life negotiable by emulating the public Trump should pause and perhaps consider a few other role models first.