Six Steps to Becoming President of the USA (or what we can learn about what our people need)

I was speaking at a conference a couple of weeks ago and upset a few people by suggesting that Trump would easily win the US elections. Easy to say that now of course. 

The reasons for Trump’s success will be discussed and written about ad infinitum but what it comes down to is very simple and very human. So here are five perspectives and six things you will need to do if you want to be President in four years time.

He played to the fear that we all feel.

Fear is the most primal of human emotions. Its connected to the amygdala, the oldest part of our brain. This ‘fear centre’ bypasses the ‘logic’ parts of the brain to initiate the fight or flight response.

The speed of change, the collapse of metanarratives that hold the world together and the (perceived) failure of the system that created our current world leaves the stage wide open for leaders who dare to stand up and articulate the fears we feel. Russia, the Philippines and now Trump play to the fears of nationalism, identity, globalisation and the desperate need we all have to be part of something.

Once the tribe choose a leader that they believe can protect them and mitigate those fears – he or she becomes bullet-proof, as we’ve seen in the past few weeks.

There are two ways to create trust in your audience/tribe – touch and empathy. Touch is awkward and difficult in a large group. Empathy is easy – Trump was a master of empathising with the fears of his audience and he won.


He was a great communicator.

Can you remember one of Hillary’s speeches or quotes?

Trump used soundbites, shock, surprise, the rule of three, he went off-piste, he exasperated his team – to the delight of his audience, he verged on libellous.

Today, the art of communication is synonymous with the art of leadership. As Winston Churchill said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” 


He stood up against the status quo.

There is a joke, in true American sporting style, told about the war of independence in 1765.

The two ‘teams’, the British and the American gathered together to organise the event. The two team captains went forward and tossed a coin to decide how the battle would be fought.

The British won the toss and decided, true to their traditions, beliefs and honours, that they would wear bright red suites, lots of gold, large black hats and walk in straight line formation carrying a huge British flag.

The Americans, on the other hand, decided they would wear brown, hide in the trees and take pot-shots at the British.

The rest as they say is history.

Trump played by a different set of rules; not held back by history, protocol, political-correctness or playing-fair. He was the voice of contention that dared to ask ‘but why should it be done that way?’  

He picked a fight.

The response to fear is flight or fight – defending our territory, our homes, our jobs, our family and our way of life is right up there next to fear in terms of our brains. Fighting is what we are programmed to do - it's in our very DNA as a species. 

We want tribal leaders who are heroes. People we will follow in to battle with bravado and passion.  Trump started a movement of people who wanted to fight and protect their (the tribes) way of life. 

People don’t follow strategies, economic plans, foreign policy or empty promises.

People follow people that have a vison. 

He gave people something bigger to believe in.

In a world of mundanity, confusion and helplessness – when the American Dream is crumbling Trump offered people a new paradigm. Content wise, it might not have been much, but he offered the one thing people need more than anything else – hope.

Hope is the belief that things will get better and will change – without the evidence or certainty that that will be the case. 

Trump sold hope to the millions of people who had given up, who though they didn’t have a voice who were disillusioned and ignored.

It’s no coincidence that Trump rally’s took on an almost religious zealousness – we all need something, someone bigger that we can lean on. Trump took that role.

Of course, the test of great leadership is the ability to deliver. Promise and charisma are easy – true, measurable, successful, honourable, servant leadership is much much harder. Time will tell.

So five things to win your audience, six if you want to be President.

  1. Create empathy with your audience
  2. Learn how to be a truly great communicator
  3. Play by a different set of rule
  4. Find something to fight against
  5. Give people hope and something bigger to believe in 
  6. Find upwards of $250 million