Monday, December 10, 2018

A Comparison of Obama and Trump’s Leadership Styles


Different leaders rely on different leadership styles and this is no less true of presidents. Depending on the situation they are facing, different leadership styles might serve better than others. For instance, the transformational leadership style tends to be the most suitable when groups or organizations facing uncertainty and need organizational innovation to create a better future (Dierendonck, Stam, Boersma, Windt, & Alkema, 2014). However, charismatic leadership also tends to be effective in crisis situations when people are under great stress (Robbins & Judge, 2017). The last two U.S. presidents use these leadership styles to some degree. Although both former president Obama and president Trump use charisma, they tend to differ on other leadership dimensions. The contention of this paper is that Trump relies on a charismatic leadership style to manage the presidency while Obama relied on transformational leadership strategies during his term in office.

Charismatic Leadership Style

Leaders who possess charisma create the perception of success and self-confidence among their followers and arouse strong emotions from them (Williams, Pillai, Deptula, Lowe, & Mccombs, 2018). President Trump possesses the traits associated with charismatic leadership such as high extroversion, self-confidence and social self-esteem and an achievement orientation (Robbins & Judge, 2017). Charismatic leaders unite followers behind by communicating value convergence, which influences followers to more closely identify with them, by articulating a vision that links the present with a better future, and by demonstrating a sense of power and confidence necessary to fulfill their promises (Williams et al., 2018; Robbins & Judge, 2017). Charismatic leaders communicate value convergence with their followers by focusing on shared values that encourage harmony among their followers (Williams et al., 2018). President Trump communicates value convergence through strong patriotic sentiments, Judeo-Christian beliefs, and conservative aims such as enhancing border security and decreasing bureaucracy and red tape. Charismatic leaders also communicate a vision to their followers through a vision statement that encompasses their overarching goals and purpose and sets high performance expectations that boost their followers’ confidence and self-esteem (Robbins & Judge, 2017). The vision also serves to set an example for followers to imitate and provide mutual support to their leader (Robbins & Judge, 2017). President Trump has used vision statements in both his roles in office and as a presidential candidate. For instance, his infamous slogans “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall” are readily recognizable and convey clear and powerful messages to his followers. Both allude to his desire to restore a nationalistic pride he believes has been lost over the years to globalization and cultural fragmentation (although whether his vision is genuine is contestable).

How Trump Exemplifies Charismatic Leadership

President Trump demonstrates charismatic leadership qualities not only by continuing to hold rallies long after his election victory, but also when it comes to negotiating international trade deals. On his first day in office, President Trump scrapped the Trans Pacific Partnership, a hallmark of Obama’s tenure, and has since renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In this regard, Trump has used rhetorical strategies that portray him as sympathetic to working class Americans. For example, he has constantly communicated the vision of returning manufacturing and extraction industry jobs to the U.S. by negotiating trade deals that are more favorable to U.S. economic interests, and by using tariffs as a bulwark against perceived inequities in U.S. trade relations. He has also characterized himself as a deal maker who has the competence and know how to get the job done because he has years of experience in the business sector.

Transformational Leadership Style

While Obama could be described as using the same charismatic leadership that Trump uses, it would be more accurate to characterize his presidency as transformational leadership. Transformational leadership entails multiple dimensions in which leaders focus on the needs and values of the group or their organization and encourage their followers to exceed expectations for the sake of their group or organization (Dierendonck et al., 2014). The transformational leadership includes some of the dimensions of charismatic leadership such as inspirational motivation, which involves the communication of a vision, and idealized consideration (i.e. being a role model to followers), but it also adds intellectual stimulation (i.e. thinking of unconventional solutions and approaches to problems, individualized consideration for focusing on follower’s development, and personal recognition of followers’ performance (Dierendonck et al., 2014). Transformational leaders also tie their goals and expectations to higher ideals and moral values (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). Like charismatic leaders, they tend to focus on the big picture and are confident and optimistic about their visions (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). One way in which Obama used the transformational leadership styles is in framing political issues that could be divisive as one’s of national interest (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). For instance, during townhalls and speeches before congress, Obama would address his group as “the American people” or “we” instead of framing issues as ones that only his democratic constituency should address (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012).

How Obama Exemplifies Transformational Leadership

Since Obama came to power during a financial crisis and subsequent recession he needed more than charisma to be an effective leader. In this regard, a transformational leadership style allowed him to not only use charisma to garner support, but also devise and execute effective strategies to spur an economic recovery. Thus, Obama not only had to communicate a vision of what he wanted America to become, he also had to devise specific policies to get there. The stimulus package passed during his first year, which included tax relief and subsidies to failing industries, is one such example. Another example is the Affordable Care Act to fulfill his vision of ensuring that every American has health insurance, although this never came to fruition.


Dierendonck, D. V., Stam, D., Boersma, P., Windt, N. D., & Alkema, J.(2014). Same difference? Exploring the differential mechanisms linking servant leadership and transformational leadership to follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(3), 544-562. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2013.11.014

Engbers, T., & Fucilla, L. (2012).Transforming Leadership and the Obama Presidency. Social Science Quarterly, 93(5), 1127-1145. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00917.x

Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2017). Organizational Behavior (17th ed.). Pearson Publishing.

Williams, E. A., Pillai, R., Deptula, B. J., Lowe, K. B., & Mccombs, K. (2018). Did charisma “Trump” narcissism in 2016? Leader narcissism, attributed charisma, value congruence and voter choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 130, 11-17. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.03.010

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