Leaders cannot afford to be rigid. Just ask Trump


Leaders cannot afford to be rigid. Just ask Trump

"Sometimes, to move forward, you have to take a step back," a UAE-based corporate leader told me recently.

By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's desk)

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Published: Sat 26 Jan 2019, 7:23 PM

Last updated: Sun 27 Jan 2019, 12:17 PM

In a surprise and a rather uncharacteristic climbdown on the Mexican border wall financing issue, US President Donald Trump finally blinked first and backed down to end, even if temporarily, the longest US government shutdown in history. The bill that Trump signed this Friday ended his 35-day-long stalemate with the Democrats over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the US-Mexican border. The reopening of the government will pave the way to paying off the over 800,000 federal workers who've either been furloughed or forced to work without pay since December 22, 2018.
Even as the US leader said he would "make sure that all employees receive their back pay very quickly or as soon as possible," he forfeited the opportunity to give the reopening a human face - that of the federal workers. Instead, he chose to stick with his "wall or steel slats" pet theme. Even in his "surrender" (that's what the US media is putting it down as), Trump reiterated, in his typical aggressive negotiation style, that this was only an interim step and that he was ready to unleash the 'emergency' bazooka if he didn't get his way in the next 20-odd days.
Now, Trump is a renowned TV personality and former host of business reality shows like The Apprentice besides being the author of the 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal. He's known to have cracked multi-billion dollar deals to his advantage in the blink of an eye. Maybe. But the way he's operated so far as the US President highlights that he's just got one negotiating style: to try and browbeat the opposition into submission. But what happens when a Kim Jong-un or a Nancy Pelosi dig in? He ends up giving up much more to such opponents at the altar of his ego. If you're a businessman, such temper tantrums are bad for your finances. But when you're the President of the United States, being stubborn can be bad not just for your own country but also for a good part of the world.
Whether in politics or in the corporate world, we come across examples of both good and bad leaders. More likely, leaders can be both good and bad at the same time. Leaders can be visionaries but may still throw tantrums. They can be honest to the core but still be very self-centred. They can have great decision-making abilities but still be overly demanding. They can be committed and impulsive, empowering and frustrating, creative and unmanageable. all at the same time. Leaders, like the rest of us, are only human.
But the one thing that a leader cannot afford to be is stubborn. Soft negotiations where you show respect to the other side and their demands is a proven technique to bring in results. An interesting recent conversation I had with one of the top corporate heads of a UAE-based business group defogged this very complex issue quite simply. "Sometimes, to move forward, you have to take a step back," the leader told me in response to a question regarding a recent development. "Like a tiger crouching before jumping," he said. Maybe it's time for Trump to crouch and yield on the border wall issue.

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