Like a moth to the flame, I’m going to revisit the subject of none other than Donald Trump. You can’t ignore that he is THE story right now. There’s no doubt that when it comes to Trump, emotions run high as we watch supporters and protesters clash—even physically—at his rallies. And there is no shortage of strong opinions when it comes to Trump.
Let’s forget about the politics for a minute. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a detractor, he is an interesting study in human behavior. And it’s not just Trump’s behavior that is fascinating—it’s also fascinating how people respond to him.
Trump has said things that a vast majority of people would admit are, at best, politically incorrect and, at worst, offensive. Yet he continues to be the leading Republican candidate in the primaries. A large segment of people either accept what he says or excuse it because they’re tired of politicians who are afraid to say what they really think at the risk of offending some segment of the electorate.
But let’s look at Trump from another perspective. Many of you reading this are in a management position or have a role in HR. Imagine for a moment that Trump works at your company. In his role at the company, one of the following scenarios occurs:
- Your direct report, Donald Trump, has been invited to speak at an industry conference. At the event, he says something about the appearance of your competitor’s CEO, much like he did when he said about Republican presidential rival Carly Fiorina, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
So he says from the podium, in front of hundreds of industry professionals, “Who would do business with that company? Have you seen the face of their CEO? He looks like . . . .” His comments cause an uproar that reverberates throughout the industry, making front-page headlines in all the publications that are most relevant to your company. As his manager, what’s your next step?
- Your company’s CEO, Donald Trump, gets up at a companywide event and makes a comment about Mexicans very much like when he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
The next day, a group of your Mexican-American employees shows up in your office in the HR department to file an official complaint about the CEO’s comments. They were offended by what he said and feel disrespected by their company’s leader. As an HR professional, what do you say to this group of offended employees? And what would your board of directors do, if anything?
- One more scenario to consider: Your employee, Donald Trump, is in a staff meeting you are leading. Another one of your team members has recently gone through a divorce after she found out her spouse was cheating on her. Trump makes a remark similar to when he retweeted, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” The coworker is horrified and embarrassed that her personal life has been commented on in this way. What’s your next move?
My point is that comments we wouldn’t accept or ignore in most circumstances have become commonplace with Trump. And instead of the majority of people turning against him, he has been embraced by a large segment of the American population. Somehow these comments, offensive in the majority of situations, have left him admired for his honesty and bluntness. And I’m just looking for someone to explain to me how this happens.
I assume that most of us, if we had Donald Trump as our employee, would be addressing these situations and trying to curb his behavior. As his manager, we wouldn’t tolerate these comments, nor would we want him to represent us or our company if he behaved this way. But it seems that a significant percentage of Americans are prepared to nominate him to the highest office in our country, where he would represent all of us. And this continues to baffle me—and intrigue me. Go figure.