Rating Donald Trump as a Leader


Michigan Ross Professor Dave Ulrich puts the candidate’s leadership ability to the test.

Real estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump is polling high in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee. But he’s also been a controversial figure. In this analysis, Michigan Ross Professor Dave Ulrich, a human resources and leadership expert, applies his leadership capital index to Trump, along with some advice.


There’s no question Donald Trump has built and run a successful business, including celebrity status in real estate and television. But celebrity and leadership are not the same thing. The Apprentice was great entertainment, but lousy leadership. Effective leaders do not focus on “you’re fired” while seeking one great “you’re hired” winner and future apprentice, but on making everyone winners.

Leaders lead by building leadership among the many, not just the one. Likewise, political leadership is not about entertainment, celebrity, or verbosity.

Clearly, leaders have to deliver the right results in the right way by being personally authentic and building teams and organizations that outlive them. But how do we know and measure that someone is an effective leader?

A key to answering this question comes from a simple principle: Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. Like good parenting, a leader leads by having followers who can become better leaders. Good parents succeed when their children excel. Good leaders should be evaluated not just on their personal charisma, passion, or even authenticity, but on how their key stakeholders evaluate them.

I have synthesized innumerable studies and decades of personal work into a leadership capital index. This index does for leadership what a Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s index does for creditworthiness by giving investors a disciplined, complete, and rigorous way to evaluate leadership. In business, leaders who exceed the needs of investors increase the market value of their firms up to 50 percent. In politics, leaders succeed when they help citizens reach their goals.

Based on my observations of Trump from his omnipresence in the media, I can offer some assessments about his leadership, not just his celebrity. By doing so, I recognize that his leadership capital might not match his financial success.

First, leaders make others stronger by focusing on what can be as opposed to what is wrong. Some prophets see what is wrong, and they tell people they are damned and going to hell. Other prophets see what is wrong, and they offer people a pathway to heaven. Leaders have sustainable success by building a pathway to heaven in doing five personal things:

Dimensions of personal leadership Trump’s demonstrated leadership

Trump Grade

(0 to 100)
Personal credibility; building trust in followers; physical energy; willing to learn

Good: passion, energy,

Bad: learning agility, growth mindset, social connection, moral code
Strategic agenda: having a clear point of view about the future

Good: sees what’s wrong

Bad: no concrete solutions
Executor: getting things done

Good: history of building buildings and managing a company

Bad: policy and buildings are not the same thing
People: helping others be competence and feel commitment What is the cap on his approval rating? Can he connect with those who may not completely agree with him 20
Brand: building leadership for the situation Making money is not the same as governing a country. Political leadership requires courage and compromise; direction and engagement 20
His total personal leadership score is 140/500, or 28 percent. Total: 140 out of 500


Second, great leaders build greater organizations; they install systems and processes that outlast them as leaders. Leadership is not an individual, but team sport. Individually talented leaders are champions; effective teams win championships. In the Leadership Capital Index, we have identified 5 elements of building a stronger organization:

Dimensions of organizational leadership Trump’s demonstrated leadership

Trump Grade

(0 to 100)
Culture: defining a culture for an organization that connects outside promises to internal actions Trump is an iconoclast, not focused on collaboration or building a culture. He talks mostly about himself, not about how others will benefit. 20
Talent: working hard to make others be successful One person is “hired,” and all the others are “fired” in The Apprentice. Shows us those who have now become great leaders because of Trump. 20
Accountability: holding others accountable for success and failure Trump is willing to clearly hold people accountable for what they do or don’t do, resulting in both positive and negative consequences. 90
Information: sharing information in a way that builds a consistent, positive message In his public speeches, he is consistent and clear, but he focuses on what is wrong more than what is right. 40
Governance and organization: building an organization that outlasts him Who are the leaders who will work with him to solve problems and get things done? 10
His total personal leadership score is 180/500, or 36 percent. Total: 180 out of 500


So, what advice would I give Trump as a leader?

  • Start being less of a celebrity and more of a leader. Celebrities pontificate to get attention; leaders work tirelessly to improve the lives of those they lead. Recognize that financial success is not necessarily correlated with leadership effectiveness.
  • Think less about yourself and more about those who you want to lead. Help them envision a better world where they are more able to meet their needs.
  • Focus more on the opportunities of a future with specific choices to get there and less on bombastic criticisms of the past.
  • Emphasize your willingness to learn. Promise us that your best leadership days are in your future as you can grow into the job. This means apologizing when you make a mistake to show that you can learn and grow.
  • Collaborate with others. Be able to disagree without being disagreeable and come together to solve some of the real problems you have identified in America.

Trump is right that we need real leadership as we enter this political season. I would hope he could put aside his celebrity and start to really lead.


Media Contact: michiganrosspr@umich.edu