In my last book, Guiding Growth, I talked about what can happen when a company doesn’t have a coherent, effective vision. And I’ve found that before most managers can commit to growing an organization that is driven by vision, they need to recognize the characteristics of a company without vision. More importantly, they must recognize what happens when a company pushes forward into hyper-growth mode absent a cohesive vision. In an ongoing conversation regarding the characteristics of a leader, I thought it interesting that the current “missteps” in the Donald Trump campaign are illustrative of what happens when a leader—be they politician or CEO—cannot clearly articulate their vision, even within their own ranks, and execute the vision in the day-to-day operations of their organization.
Many fast-growing organizations encounter a similar problem: the lack of an effective, embedded vision at the crucial juncture where scaling meets speed. The research I’m currently up to my eyeballs in focuses on the unique capabilities of firms that successfully transform themselves in response to market disruptions. These organizations are on the receiving end of disruption caused by start-ups—incumbents who risk becoming irrelevant if they do not adapt. We are finding—no real surprise—that a guiding vision is essential before the transformational process begins, and without it, the trauma of transformation can literally kill off an organization.
National campaigns are like start-ups in that their trajectories point to size but not necessarily longevity. Rather than formulating a robust vision, then implementing ambitious strategies that lay the groundwork for a sustainable, thoughtful platform, some of the political campaigns we’re seeing rely on drama and vitriol to exploit media opportunities, which until now has served Trump well. We’ve also seen (and I’ve recently written about) how business start-ups fueled by drama and emotion but no vision just end up in a fizzle.
Trump’s political organization needs (or, more accurately, needed) a transformation not unlike the ones he should know about as a CEO.
Nowhere is a lack of vision more apparent than in his campaign’s organizational kerfuffle. Just ask Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager—a major player in disruptive politics, who was recently arrested in Florida for simple battery. And Trump himself—taking three different views on abortion in one day, angering and alienating constituents on both sides, and touching a nerve that just may be the undoing of his campaign. With accusations of misogyny still ringing from these scandals, the candidate supported, and then recanted, a view that should abortion become illegal, women deserve punishment.
Much like the development of a start-up, this transition of a reality TV star into a serious contender for the Republican nomination requires nothing less than a series of fundamental yet relatively seamless transformations. Well-articulated visions guide these transformations so they don’t include too many nasty surprises and errors along the way. Unfortunately, there are relatively few exceptional leaders with the capacity to conceptualize, articulate, and relentlessly manage with a clear vision and survive the steep challenges brought on by accelerated growth. But a direct correlation exists between the competency of vision management and the rate at which firms (and campaigns) can successfully grow and sustain themselves.
The one candidate with seemingly endless airtime to explain his views to the American people should give everyone, supporters and nonsupporters alike, pause as to his ability to lead.
Trump may even be a believer in vision. But he lacks the understanding of how to integrate “vision” in the daily demands of leading the race for, and then winning, his party’s nomination. The highs and lows of each day—the crises, the opportunities, the ever-evolving scandals—have clearly pushed vision to the back burner. Meanwhile, as the tension mounts during primary season, the Trump campaign seems less and less to agree on what they’re really about. “Make America Great Again” is neither a vision nor the raison d’être component of a vision. We need to hear a far more nuanced aspiration—perhaps closer to the existential level—of what this country can become, how he plans to achieve it, and the values that will undergird the executive branch, Congress, and the American people. The question, “What is your position on X?” elicits different responses from the campaign, and in short order, perhaps those who used to see him as a hero-iconoclast are left wondering, “What does he believe in?”