10 July 2020
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What drove America to Donald Trump?

Peter Switzer
11 November 2016

What just happened? An accused misogynist, real estate salesman and casino operator has thrown the dice and wound up as the 45th President of the USA and a stock market that hated him, now loves him and given the craziness of our world one day he could be remembered as a ‘great’ US leader!

Reality can be stranger than fiction and the more I see of the ‘real’ world the more I know that great fiction is actually based on reality – only the names are changed to protect the guilty, who could sue!

But let’s not to be negative and so why not ask, how come such a reject-able human being like Donald Trump won the approval of the US people? For the statistical purists the majority of Americans who voted actually preferred Hillary Clinton but too many states with their vital electoral college votes opted for Donald.

So what motivated enough Americans to give Donald the gig? At the core of his success is his own drive to win. He is a winner and a great seller of a message. You might not like his message but a sufficient number of Americans did and he did it with the weight of the monolithic media doing their best to discredit him, though at times he made it pretty easy to do.

A few months ago I interviewed Mark Bouris, who ‘plays’ Trump for our local version of The Apprentice and he said Trump “is always on song and plays Trump 24/7” and history has shown he has built one of the biggest personal brands of all time.

You don’t achieve this unless you are driven and a huge success story. With this in mind I went looking for what drives successful people and a book by Daniel H. Pink, with the ‘unlikely’ title of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates US, is seen as one of the best.

Pink argues motivated people don’t push themselves for concrete rewards and or to avoid punishments.

He says if you want to create high achievers in your business, family, sporting team, etc. you concentrate on giving your people:

(1) Autonomy – the desire to direct their own lives;

(2) Mastery – the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters; and

(3) Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In all objectivity, who looked the more driven in the US election? Donald who was promising to “make America great again” or Hillary with her “stronger together” call?

I’ve been a Hillary fan and she was at her strongest when she had to prop up Bill and his distracted ways. She stumbled as a Secretary of State and her email screw up was inconsistent with someone who always looked so together. Her wobbly collapse, when sick during the campaign, was regrettable and bad luck but it added to her less than winning image.

She always looked smarter than Trump because she is but he always looked like a winner and he looked strong.

Last week when I assessed him as a leader using John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership I argued he had mastered the Law of Momentum and when you have that you can do a lot of winning and you can look like a great leader.

Maxwell says you aren’t as tired when you are on the attack and it’s easier to lift when your effort when you are not always on the defence. Trump played an attacking game and it paid dividends.

Pink tells us if an assignment neither inspires deep passion nor requires deep thinking then carrots or rewards won’t hurt and might help. He says when someone has to deal with an uninspiring job you would be wise to:

     “Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary.”

    “Acknowledge that the task is boring.”

    “Allow people to complete the task their own way.”

But the task of winning the US Presidency is hardly a boring task, though it looks like an exhausting one. So, how come Trump was so motivated?

Pink says the strongest and most pervasive driver for anyone is for them to see what they’re doing as satisfying, even fun, and worthwhile. He calls it “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation”.

In my working life I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who loved their jobs and it showed in their work – radio broadcasters Alan Jones, Doug Mulray, James Valentine and Lisa Wilkinson.

But it’s not just those who call media a real job but business greats from Richard Branson to John Symond to Mark Bouris to Gail Waterhouse to Katie Page, who her husband, Gerry Harvey, says is the best retailer in the country.

I love this from Pink, who is hailed by some of the world’s greatest thought leaders as an expert on what drives successful people: “The single greatest motivator is making progress in one’s work.”

Smart leaders – bosses, parents, coaches – need to create more and more days where people see their making progress and these will be the days when they feel most motivated and engaged.

Pink argues that “by creating conditions for people to make progress, shining a light on that progress, recognising and celebrating progress, organisations can help their own cause and enrich people’s lives”.

When Trump talks to his constituency he exudes this of himself – leaders have to show self-leadership qualities – but he offers his followers hope, the prospect of progress and a better life. He was on the attack against the old world that Hillary has led and she was left on the defence and her supporters were so concerned that they even had to defend the wearing of pantsuits!

Frederick Herzberg has looked at motivating staff and identified what he called “hygiene factors” such as salary, security and status, which were crucial for avoiding job dissatisfaction, but had little impact on job satisfaction.

He found in his extensive research that satisfaction was linked to “growth or motivator factors” – things like interesting work, greater responsibility, and the opportunity to grow.

Herzberg says the big carrot has a lower return on investment compared to focusing on job enrichment and making the work itself more challenging and meaningful.

To the buyers in Donald Trump’s market he was offering a more enriched life while Hillary was offering more of the same and maybe a less enriching life for those who ultimately swung away from her to Donald.

I’m not arguing Donald’s promise was actually better than Hillary’s but to those who voted for him saw it that way. Trump is unbelievably successful and unbelievably motivated, while Hillary after years of probably coping with Bill, being a woman in a man’s world of politics and in a pretty competitive world of female politics, looked jaded, even if she remained intelligent.

In business we say the most important question a seller has to answer a consumer is “why should I buy from you?”

Trump had not only dressed up a better looking package to the swinging voters who put him into power he sold it with a better, more motivated message targeted at those who were potential buyers.

Jim Collins in his best-selling book Good to Great said great businesses get the best people on the bus and even if they are in the wrong seat initially, the most important job is to get these people on board.

Not enough Americans wanted Hillary on their bus, while with Donald, they might have had their doubts but they were prepared to give him a ride.

They might live to regret it, as they have with George W. Bush, but the lesson remains people are more motivated when they see hope, optimism, happiness and fulfillment in what they do. Sure Trump was negative but it was about the past and the present, and he offered positivity for the future.

Clearly, Hillary was offering the downtrodden the carrot of better welfare but that did not get them off their butts to vote for her, which says a lot about what Daniel H. Pink tells us about motivation.

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