Clinton Vs. Trump: Profs On Leadership Styles

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton


Finkelstein approves of Clinton’s analytical bent and lauds her intelligence as a candidate, but warns that there are dangers when the president is the smartest person in the room — or believes he or she is.

“I think the analytical approach is a good one,” he says. “I think the involvement of a lot of other people is very good. I think being personally immersed in the details of various policies is good, but not as overwhelmingly good as those other elements, because if you are the expert, or at least try to become the expert, you start to believe that you know more about a topic than the true experts. I think that was true for President Obama — he was so smart and so deeply versed in many policies that he goes into it with such a level of detail that he starts to believe he knows more than the experts do. I think Hillary is a little like that but not quite as much.”

Perhaps Clinton’s biggest strength, Finkelstein says, is an obvious one: the network she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have built over their decades in politics. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it can be overlooked as a valuable asset any leader would be grateful to have. “The Clintons’ network, which many people have derided because of some perceived cronyism — in fact there’s not a CEO around who wouldn’t trust the value of a network like Hillary’s network. Knowing people everywhere who could help her or who could provide feedback or ideas is a really powerful thing.”


Trump, Finkelstein says, is largely a leader who relies on his intuition — not a bad trait on its face. “Most managers, I think, believe in intuition,” Finkelstein says. “When I ask managers that, they almost always raise their hand. So it’s not that automatically that’s a bad thing.” Trump, however, “just goes too far in that direction.”

Something that is good in small doses can be “toxic” in larger ones, Finkelstein says. “One of the things that I’ve always thought about leadership and whether it would be a good leadership attribute versus a less good one, is that things are actually very good in smaller doses and then in large doses they become toxic. There’s a reliance on intuition that I think in small doses can be very helpful, to provide a counter-balance to just looking at objective analysis, which is good, but you have to put some of yourself into it. But if you go too far, and you stop listening to what experts say, then of course you end up in big trouble.”

Another concern for Finkelstein: Trump’s “apparent lack of introspection.” The candidate known for off-the-cuff and often controversial statements has led many to surmise that he’s just improvising on the stump, without a cohesive plan for his campaign.

“Does he really think much about what he’s doing? Seems not,” Finkelstein says. “As a result, he’s not very self-aware, and self-awareness is a very big attribute of very successful leaders that I’ve studied or worked with or researched. I don’t think he has very much self-awareness.”

Julie Hennessy

Julie Hennessy


Julie Hennessy, a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, tracks brands like TiVo, Apple iPod, and Invisalign Orthodontics to determine their “meaning” — the perceptions that consumers have of the brands. In the same way, she also tracks the brands of political actors like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“What I do is go out to consumers and instead of giving them prompts, I say, ‘When you think of the brand McDonald’s, what comes to mind?’ and I track how those things change over time,” says Hennessy, who conducts short surveys that ask for opinions on brands like Starbucks, Google, McDonald’s, or Volkswagen. “And I also do it for brands like the political characters, so I’ve been tracking self-stated perceptions of associations around both Hillary and Donald for the last 18 months or so.”

Hennessy’s research gives her insight into what consumers — that is, voters — are saying about the candidates, and some of that deals with their leadership style. And a recent batch of tracking survey interviews confirmed a lot of the trends in perceptions she’s seen regarding Trump’s style.

“One of the things that’s appealing to a fairly significant set of folks about Trump — and it’s been written about a ton, that he has enormous appeal to middle- to lower-income white voters, but we actually see some of this commentary from groups beyond that — is that there’s a frustration that government has had trouble getting things done, that Congress is in gridlock and they can’t get anything done, and so one of the things that we know is appealing about Trump is that his bombasticness is perceived as ability to make stuff happen,” Hennessy says. “And where you hear a lot from other politicians, whether Democrats or Republicans, of ‘It’s complicated’ — you would hear that from Jeb Bush just like you would hear that from Hillary — you don’t hear that so much from Trump.

“So think about what Trump does: He doesn’t say it’s complicated, in a sense he says, ‘People who can’t get anything done are idiots.’ And he says there are simple solutions: Build a wall, keep Muslims out. And these simple solutions get repeated over and over … and when you talk to voters they often say, ‘I know it’s not going to be that simple,’ but they like that he’s action-oriented. You see a fair amount in the commentary that he’s a great leader and that he gets things done and that he doesn’t overcomplicate things.”