The view

Trump’s leadership style likely will have negative effects, UB expert says

Photo of a TV screen with Donald Trump speaking while pointing.

The authoritarian command-and-control style of leadership practiced by President Trump occurs when someone is trying to change a huge system in rapid motion and there is no room for debate, dissent or conflicting ideas, according to UB leadership expert Paul Tesluk.


Published February 13, 2017 This content is archived.

headshot of Paul Tesluk.
“This leadership style creates a toxic climate. ”
Paul Tesluk, professor and dean
School of Management

During Donald Trump’s first two weeks as president, one thing has remained consistent, according to news reports: leaks coming out of D.C.

That doesn’t surprise Paul Tesluk, professor and dean of the School of Management, who studies leadership, organizational culture and team effectiveness. The steady flow of leaks — such as what was said during Trump’s calls with the Mexican president and Australian prime minister, and who knew (or didn’t know) about Trump’s controversial immigration travel ban — is likely a direct result of the president’s command-and-control leadership style, Tesluk says.

“An authoritarian command-and-control style is highly directive and even dictatorial. It occurs when someone is trying to change a huge system in rapid motion and there is no room for debate, dissent or conflicting ideas,” he explains. “Not only are poor decisions made in that kind of a world, but people think, ‘why should I be loyal to this agency anymore when I am not valued or appreciated, and my opinions are not respected.’ This leadership style creates a toxic climate.”

Tesluk’s research has found that shared leadership is the most effective for complex, dynamic environments, especially those undergoing major change. Relying on a single leader to make decisions is dangerous, his research shows, and leads to a toxic work atmosphere.

So what is his advice to White House staffers and career federal employees struggling to make sense of a management style seldom seen in the Oval Office?

It won’t be easy, he says, but he suggests finding constructive and protected mechanisms to speak up when necessary. Staffers should try and be as agile as possible, and expect the unexpected. The unpredictable, Tesluk says, will be the new normal.

For some, there are protected routes to take to share some of their concerns, and that might be the best way to cope, he says.

The command-and-control leadership style, Tesluk says, does not really allow for much interaction, and as a result, the next few weeks of this administration will be quite telling.

“Will the administration learn from the first couple weeks? Will things be more thoughtful, carefully planned?” he asks. “During the campaign, the chaos worked, but running a complex organization is much different. Things need to be well-thought-out. The best type of organizations are run by shared leadership, where expertise is shared among different members of a team.”   

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