Clinton vs. Trump: Who's the Better Leader?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton FBN

If you ask 10 corporate executives and directors to define “leadership,” you’ll likely get 10 different answers. It’s even worse in politics, where pundits usually talk about leaders needing to walk that fine line between likability and competence. That may be how you get elected, but it’s not how you run a state or a nation.

Strange that a word that describes those in charge is so poorly understood in business and in politics.

In case you’re wondering, leadership is a set of qualities and skills that enable individuals to motivate others to achieve a common purpose. You don’t need a dictionary to know that, just an understanding of what it takes to bring people together to overcome challenges and accomplish great things in this world.

When I think of outstanding leadership, two great CEOs come to mind.

A young Steve Jobs inspired the first Macintosh team to “make a dent in the universe.” They did. And a far more mature Jobs returned to a nearly bankrupt Apple and motivated his employees to build a string of iconic products that would forever change the way we live and work and create the most valuable company on Earth.

Lou Gerstner, an American Express and RJR Nabisco executive with about as much technology savvy as a Luddite, transformed age-old IBM from a dysfunctional culture of competitive silos on the verge of being broken up and sold off in pieces to the world’s leading provider of integrated IT consulting services.

It takes a strong leader to face adversity and motivate employees to achieve great results. Given the state of our sluggish economy, enormous debt, wealth disparity and security concerns, there’s little doubt that our next president will need the capabilities of a Jobs or a Gerstner to bring our divided nation together and get things done.

Interestingly enough, the same critical leadership qualities, or lack thereof, can make or break a company or a nation. Politics aside, this is how I would evaluate Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The most important thing a leader does is make decisions. That’s where the rubber meets the road. Those who make smart decisions achieve results, and results motivate everyone to achieve even loftier goals.

Donald Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is a privately-held, global real estate and investment corporation with 22,450 employees and $9.5 billion in revenue in 2014. The holding company includes hundreds of businesses and investments and appears to be well diversified. Forbes lists Trump’s personal net worth as $4.5 billion as of May 2016.

Simply put, nobody builds a successful empire of that size without being a damn good decision-maker. Trump is a doer and a risk-taker. I’m sure he’s had plenty of failed businesses, but that’s par for the course for an entrepreneur. As with any strong CEO, I believe Trump is hands on when he needs to be, but he seems to trust his executives and does not appear to be a micromanager.

That said, he has made some poor decisions as a presidential candidate. Granted, it’s his first foray into politics, but I think he shoots from the hip too much and some of his positions are not as well-informed as they should be. And there’s little doubt that his Twitter presence has harmed his reputation with women and minorities.

As secretary of State, I think Clinton made some very poor decisions with respect to the Russian reset, conditions in the Middle East that arguably gave rise to ISIS, the Benghazi attacks and her use of a private email server in handling classified information.

On the other hand, some of that may have been directed by her boss, President Obama. Other than her cabinet position, she’s never really run a significant organization so, as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on her decision-making abilities. Overall, I’d say advantage: Trump.

Both candidates have plenty of experience. I’m sure Trump will be a far better negotiator-in-chief, but Clinton’s extensive political savvy will likely make her far more adept at collaborating, building consensus and motivating cabinet members, Congress and other key stakeholders. Advantage: Clinton.

In terms of communication, Trump has the edge in off-the-cuff charisma, but Clinton is far better on the teleprompter. Neither has anything close to a Jobs-like reality distortion field, so let’s just call that a wash.

One-on-one, I’m sure they have very different styles. Trump is always looking for an edge to improve his position versus opponents and win the deal. Clinton will likely be better at reading people’s emotions and using that to build long-term relationships that are critical in politics and diplomacy. I also call that a wash.

Humility and integrity are necessary for building trust with stakeholders. Both candidates fall stunningly short on that front. Trump appears to be more of an exaggerator who hangs his hat on over-the-top statements he’d be better off not making at all, while Clinton has done a remarkable job of building a reputation as a liar. This is not either candidate’s strong suit, but I give the edge to Trump.

Granted, Jobs wasn’t known for his humility either, but that was not a problem because hubris is overconfidence. Jobs had the talent to back up his lack of humility. Unfortunately, as I see it, neither candidate can make that claim.

Perhaps Clinton’s greatest strength is her tenacity. She has faced plenty of adversity, both as a woman in politics and as Bill Clinton’s wife. Nothing seems to keep her down. Stick-with-it-ness or perseverance is another one of those unsung leadership characteristics, especially among tech entrepreneurs.

That said, every entrepreneur knows that the road to business success is full of potholes. I’m sure Trump has also faced more than his share of hurdles and challenges to build his empire. Still, I would give Clinton a slight edge on this one.

Bottom line: In terms of leadership ability, each candidate has strengths and weaknesses, but neither is a Jobs or a Gerstner. That doesn’t mean their potential presidencies can’t be transformative, but whoever wins will certainly have to rise above themselves to justify the faith of the American people. That will be the true test.