Something or more likely someone has changed over the past 20 years. Way back in the mid-1990’s I offered a development program titled Integrity-Driven® Leadership. One of the exercises asked participants to list leaders they admired for their integrity and those that they didn’t.
Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican candidate for President, was a name that appeared often on the least admired list and only rarely on the most admired.
The irony was hard to ignore as I watched his acceptance speech for the nomination.
Perspective matters and it is important to understand the environment in which the question was asked back in 1992 – 1995.
Trump released the national bestseller The Art of the Deal in 1987.The Los Angeles Times review described him as “full of ferocious energy.” Trump, we were told, had the biggest and most of everything: hotels, casinos, condominium developments, airplanes, and friends. The Times review went on to say that there were plans in place to acquire anything that was not yet on the list.
That same year, the fictional character Gordon Gecko told the world that “greed is good” in the movie “Wall Street.” Imagining Donald Trump giving that speech is not a stretch of imagination.
Things changed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The Savings & Loan crisis created financial disruption. Jim Wright, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was investigated in 1988 and later resigned in disgrace after being found guilty of peddling influence. The next year five U.S. Senators, known as the Keating Five, were investigated for corruption for their relationships with Charles Keating, Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.
Then things went bad for Trump. The Trump Taj Mahal went bankrupt in 1991. This action cost him his 282-foot yacht, the Trump Shuttle, and half of his ownership in the property. Trump Castle Associates followed into bankruptcy the following year. This resulted in the loss of the Trump Plaza Hotel in New York, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Trump Castle Casino Resort. Trump also relinquished one-half of his interest in the New York Plaza to Citibank.
In the context of those events, it is easy to understand how the brash Donald Trump would come to be viewed as a negative role model when thinking about integrity in leadership.
So what or who has changed in 2016?
Donald Trump is an even bigger brand name today than he was in the 1980’s. He is a master of all things media. His business fortunes have rebounded even as some of his practices – like Trump University – continue to draw scrutiny.
The themes Trump laid out in The Art of the Deal are present in his campaign themes and widely accepted in the business self-help industry: Think big; Maximize your options, Know your market, Protect the downside.
He still values greed. At a January 2916 campaign event, he said, “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get.”
Even Trump’s political positions are not that far removed from those he laid out in The American We Deserve back in 2000 when he was publicly considering a campaign for President.
That leaves us to consider this question: Have we as a society changed over the past 20 years?
More specifically, was Milton Friedman correct that all economies run on greed? Was Trump all along? Do we now understand his financial failures as being more the product of the times and less about the brash immaturity of a young tycoon? Has Donald Trump successfully shown the integrity, vision, and performance we expect from the President of the United States? Do current conditions and other leadership options justify overlooking acknowledged weaknesses to attain perceived strengths? Is this our collective backlash against decades of ineffective leaders? Are we buying into the celebrity image at the expense of substance?
You can’t ignore the fact that more people would put Donald Trump on their list of leaders to be admired today. He secured the most votes of any Presidential candidate in history in the Republican primaries.
So who has changed? Donald Trump or us?
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email email@example.com, or call 972.980.9857.