Clinton Vs. Trump: Profs On Leadership Styles

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Now that both conventions have closed, the presidential general election contest is under way in earnest. But even as they seek to define themselves and each other, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are perhaps already as well known as two candidates ever have been in late July of a presidential campaign. Both have been in the spotlight for decades; both have spent a more than a year on the trail in this 2016 race. And both have distinctive styles of leadership from which we may draw conclusions about how they would govern.

Sydney Finkelstein

Sydney Finkelstein

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth professor of management at the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business and faculty director of the Tuck Center for Leadership, like much of America, has watched the 2016 election campaign closely — but unlike most of America, his conclusions about the dueling styles of the candidates is drawn from a deep well of experience and scholarship. “They are really different, but there are also some really interesting connections,” says Finkelstein, who has published dozens of articles and several bestsellers, including the No. 1 bestseller in the U.S. and Japan, Why Smart Executives Fail, and his most recent work, Superbosses: How Great Leaders Build Unstoppable Networks of Talent. “For example when you talk about self-confidence: They end up in the same place, but one takes a long time and a lot of analysis to get there, and the other one gets there very quickly.”

For both candidates, says Finkelstein, who has never met nor worked with either candidate, high self-confidence is a key part of their makeup as politicians and leaders — as it must be for anyone who rises to such heights in our political system. As he says, “they do have the courage of their convictions.” But their self-confidence manifests differently, sometimes radically differently, in how each candidate goes about making decisions.


Examining Clinton’s decision-making style, Finkelstein says she employs an exhaustive, thorough process before coming to a decision, often involving multiple advisers and experts — and often requiring a great deal of time.

“The words that come to mind are very analytical, and exhaustive,” Finkelstein says. “She tries to uncover whatever she can, whatever facts are available, whatever details, she likes to involve a lot of other people in providing feedback and ideas and research.” She also prefers a secretive process, he points out, sometimes to her detriment and the defeat of her initiatives. “You can go back to the original health care program that she worked on as the first lady, way back in the ’90s, and it kind of just was sprung on the public. You see it also with the emails, a priority to the secretive approach. Whether she is learning some lessons about this along the way in unknown.

“I think she doesn’t think she knows everything,” he continues. “I don’t believe she’s very intuitive, obviously as compared to Trump, but just in general, and as a result she likes to collect data, likes to analyze, likes to call in experts and different people, and in the end (she) ends up being very confident about her decisions and doesn’t back down from those decisions. She has that tenacity that many people have talked about.”


Trump, in many ways, is the opposite of Clinton, Finkelstein says. His style is impulsive and intuitive, and not based on a lot of data. “He’s actually anti-data in many of the things that he’s done,” Finkelstein says. “He likes to keep things close to the vest.”

Trump relies on a small coterie of advisers, notably family members, and especially his three eldest children, Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric. “And because he puts such a high premium on loyalty — there’s some similarity in that respect (to Clinton) — he has his trusted advisers that are typically his family, more than anything else his children,” Finkelstein says. “It’s unclear whether his campaign manager (Paul Manafort) is a trusted adviser or not, but his kids certainly are.

“He has extraordinary self-confidence. If Hillary has got self-confidence, on whatever scale you measure that Trump would be off the charts,” Finkelstein continues. “There’s no doubting anything. And I think while Hillary gets to a point where she feels very certain about what she believes in, she doesn’t start that way, she goes through a long process to get there — and I think Trump gets there very, very quickly and sticks to it just as strongly and hates to change his mind, in part because that might be seen as he didn’t do something right. As a form of weakness.”

Finkelstein says that courage to stand by a decision, even an unpopular one, sets Trump and Clinton apart — something he again referred to as the “courage of their convictions.”

“That’s different than some other leaders, whether in politics or not, who will actually not have that courage and will make adjustments and change very quickly if they think it’s in their advantage to do that,” Finkelstein says. “Politically, I think we’ve seen Clinton make changes for what sure seems like political reasons — for example her declining support for the TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries). She was very, very for that and now it’s a different political situation. That’s a political move, to me that’s not a reflection on decision-making style.”

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