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4 Communication Lessons That Business Leaders Can Take From Donald Trump

29/01/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he speaks during the Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel's 16th annual Outdoor Sportsman Awards at The Venetian Las Vegas during the 2016 National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show on January 21, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The SHOT Show, the world's largest annual trade show for shooting, hunting and law enforcement professionals, runs through January 23 and features 1,600 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 62,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The hot topic of discussion just about everywhere these days is Donald Trump. Until a few months ago, everyone knew him as a flamboyant billionaire, a successful institution builder, a TV personality. When he decided to enter the US presidential race, no one took him seriously at first. They were mistaken in dismissing him. His popularity ratings are high and he's ahead of the pack. Not only has he built up a support base in the US, he has garnered admirers as far away as India. Whether or not you agree with his controversial views, his tenacity to get where he has on the political playing field is worthy of some applause. Whether he will get the final nomination of the Republican party, only time will tell. However, like him or hate him, he is force to reckon with.

When he says things like "I am really rich" he isn't making an empty boast.

While some critics say he is "incoherent" his message is certainly getting across to large numbers of people. Clearly, one of the reasons for his success so far has been his communication style and how he is able to connect with many people. Here are some takeaways from his style for business leaders.

1. He's not afraid to trumpet his achievements

Donald Trump is not one to mince words. When he says things like "I am really rich", or "I've made a tremendous amount of money and I'm willing to put that skill to use in this country" he isn't making an empty boast. Those are facts and they have a bearing on what he is trying to do. When he talks about his being rich he wants to say he has money and so does not need to go after donors and lobbyists for their support. It's also true that he has been a very successful businessman who built a huge business empire. Why should he be apologetic and shy about his achievements?

Takeaway for business leaders: If you have accomplished something, you should talk about it. No use being coy about it. Others should know what you have achieved, and it also helps the cause of your organisation. Of course, you must be certain that any chest-thumping on your part stands up to scrutiny and challenges.

2. Trump's "gurning": The power of imperfections

We've all been quite captivated/entertained/amused by the facial gymnastics of Donald Trump after every GOP debate. While some sniff that these contortions do not behoove a presidential candidate, I have a different interpretation. I believe it shows Donald Trump's authentic self. He does not come across as a person whose expressions are choreographed and put-on. Most important, it shows that despite being a billionaire and a potential presidential candidate, he is not perfect. He is like anyone else. I believe this "shortcoming" of his helps him to connect with the audience. Remember, when a leader reveals his shortcomings, he solidifies his trust with his followers.

When a leader reveals his shortcomings, he solidifies his trust with his followers.

Takeaway for business leaders: Don't try to project yourself as impeccable. Go ahead and communicate a shortcoming. It can be a great way to establish a connect with your followers as you will come across as someone who is a flawed human and not a perfect creature. Stars like Akshay Kumar, who often speaks of his early struggles, resonate with a wide variety of audiences just for this reason. People can aspire to be like him, because he was once like them. Just remember never to share a weakness pertaining to your profession as it could make your career go awry.

3. Keeping language simple

Have you observed Donald Trump speaking? Compared to the other candidates he uses simple, sentences and words which any one can understand. What he says is filled with emotions and anger. This resonates with the voters as it echoes their pains.

A study done by University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Yoffe Liberman in September 2015 compared the words used by Donald Trump with that of Jeb Bush. The research found Jeb Bush's commonly used words were "strategy," "government," "president", "state", "growth" etc. Donald Trump's most used words were "I", "they", "Trump", "China", "money" etc. The policy-like words of Bush are sometimes less effective that Trump's simple statements.

An analysis found Donald Trump spoke like a fourth grader... it increases his appeal for those who are less educated.

Further, another analysis done by the Boston Globe during October last year, using a common algorithm called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, found Donald Trump spoke like a fourth grader. You may turn up your nose at this but it increases his appeal for those who are less educated. What he says gets understood by large number of voters.

Takeaway for business leaders: Use language which will be understood by your audience. If you are a chief technology officer and talking to the front-line employees of a company, un-complicate what you say and don't use esoteric IT jargon. I know of a CEO who regularly shares the company's performance with his employees in large town-halls. When he does it he transforms from being a successful finance professional to that of a teacher who simplifies complex financial ratios to terms that even non-finance folks understand. His employees just love it.

4. The art of direct speak

Donald Trump speaks with sometimes shocking candour. He is not politically correct. He speaks his mind, and it gets him into trouble at times. Haven't we heard those statements: "He's not war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured" (on John McCain), or "Look at the face! Would anyone vote for that?" (On Carly Fiorina). While the content of some his utterances are downright offensive, Trump's forthrightness adds credibility to his persona. He comes across as someone who speaks his mind and says what he means.

While the content of some his utterances are downright offensive, Trump's forthrightness adds credibility to his persona.

When most politicians speak, they are generally careful and ambiguous. They sound sophisticated, scripted and often qualify what they say to not get caught on the wrong side. This at times can appear phoney. Donald Trump breaks this convention and his followers just like him more for this. They know he need not be politically correct as he is using his own money.

Takeaway for business leaders: It helps to be direct. Don't be verbose or sidestep issues, as your people would like to know where you stand. When a leader is upfront with his team he or she is being honest and avoiding being misunderstood. Be candid when you're conveying both good and bad news. However, if you are conveying a tough message, ensure it does not impact the dignity of the person.

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