I like Donald Trump. I’m not sure why. So much of the Trump persona suggests a level of conspicuous consumption that somehow reminds me of Las Vegas. He has a gargantuan ego and sometimes questionable taste. He takes trophy brides and seems to live by the adage that he who dies with the most toys wins.
Yet, I still like him. I have hugely enjoyed his appearances in The Apprentice. There is a morbid fascination in seeing The Donald delight in firing the poor performers. He moves around the streets and offices of New York with a cheeky gleam in his eye. There is just hint of self-deprecation, a trait viewed favourably by many Australians.
I have a Donald Trump Doll sitting on my filing cabinet in my office. It says seventeen different things, from “have an ego, there is nothing like an ego” to “I should fire myself just for having you around!”. Next to my Donald doll sits a baseball cap which simply says “You’re Fired!”, a memento of a recent visit to Trump Tower in New York.
Trump has a fascinating background. His brother Fred Junior died an alcoholic at 43. Having seen his brother being taken advantage of by a range of his contacts and friends, Donald reacted by taking a very different view of others, a view characterised by author Slater as being “untrusting and skeptical about people, better to assume that they are out for themselves”.
Something about this approach troubles me. It seems to turn the golden rule on its head. Rather that doing unto others what you would like done to yourself, the view of others as being potentially untrustworthy changes the maxim to one of “get them before they get you”. Taken to its extreme, a society based on mistrust would become little more than a jungle. We would need a huge police force to maintain order. Our courts would overflow with litigious citizens seeking to defend their own piece of the pie.
I have always lived by the ethic that people should be trusted until such trust is shown to be misplaced because of their reckless or deliberate actions or because their selfishness shines through their behavior. This is an ethic which inevitably leads to occasional trouble, since the charlatan may sometimes win, but to assume its opposite is to invite a coldness and a hardening of our hearts, a debasing of the human spirit, and a diminution of our humanity.
I like Donald a lot. I should probably like him less right now, since he cancelled his tour of Australia that was to take place last week. Having already been paid $1.5 million, he decided not to visit Down Under when the promoter of his tour went bust. Since I’d already paid thousands of dollars for the right to sell Trump books and merchandise at the events in three states, I tried to save the tour. Unfortunately, it was too late.
I admire The Donald’s style, his confidence, and his achievements. But you and I must reject the sharp end of his persona if we are going to make our own way forward in a positive, cooperative way. The mistrust of The Donald, for instance, would torpedo the dynamic of the great corporate team, its members depending on each other for success, each member giving something up of their individualism in return for mutual support and cooperation. Mistrust is a potent enemy of teamwork.
Arguably, mistrust is also the enemy of positive ethics, since so many of the necessary conditions for ethical behavior depend on trust. Since there is a limit to that which can be regulated, probity, equity, and justice in the workplace depend on an enlightened approach to ethics, perhaps more than any other input. Without it, we must rely on rigid rules and procedures and on strict corporate surveillance to promote positive behavior at work.
In an era in which our people at work are demanding more autonomy, freedom and trust than ever before, trust has got to be a key ingredient in our own approach to corporate leadership. The alternative is not worth contemplating.
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