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Leadership lessons from the American election

The election in the US has dominated world news for weeks now. Both, Hillary Clinton as well as Donald Trump have displayed leadership and communication styles that carry lessons for economic leaders as well. Interestingly enough, they both chose fairly opposing methods that nevertheless drew big crowds in for each of them and we all know by now who was the more successful candidate in the end.


Picture: artinspiring /

Katharina Balazs, an Associate Professor at ESCP Europe and an executive coach at the Insead Global Leadership Centre, has analysed the different communication styles and what leaders can learn from them:

Hillary Clinton’s style to address a crowd:

  • leads with the head
  • comes across as logical, factual and direct
  • is organised, meticulous and detail-oriented.

Donald Trump’s style to address a crowd:

  • leads with the heart
  • is an expressive communicator who displays a people-oriented and emotive approach to communication.
  • is passionate and emotional.
  • is a visual communicator who expresses his ideas in an animated, lively way, building on ideas, metaphors and images, preferring to concentrate on the “big picture” than the details.

Balazs’ analysis of Hillary Clinton’s style:

Upside: “Facts and details pour out of her with ease, and are (…) structured by order, logic and sequence. Her language is clear, and she connects the facts with the concrete, the ‘how-to’.”

Downside: “She might remind people of the strict school teacher who knew it all and used to humiliate them in class. This impression is reinforced by her clear, calm, modulated voice, as well as her behaviour during Trump’s turn to speak, as she diligently takes notes while he speaks. Her head held high, as if in disdain, and her sometimes pinched mouth further contribute to this perception.”

Balazs’ analysis of Donald Trump’s style:

Upside: “Trump is master of strong emotions, delivered with little logical underpinning or structure. His passionate rhetoric, and his imaginative, energetic, highly descriptive and unbridled emotional language create a sense of excitement and dynamism in his listeners, and give him the image of ‘a man of action’, in contrast with Clinton, who is seen as ‘the woman of words’. Trump’s expressive facial and body language make him come across as more energised than Clinton’s poker face. Trump excels at creating engagement and interpersonal relationships, and elicits strong passions from people to whom facts and figures matter little.”

Downside: “He jumps from one topic to another, and rarely if ever answers the original question, even when repeatedly brought back to it by the interviewer. He is undoubtedly able to touch and even rouse people (in a positive or negative way, depending on the point of view you take) but comes across as unprepared, unpredictable and lacking substance and depth.”

According to Katharina Balazs today’s leaders can learn from both politicians. As always the compromise between both styles is the one that wins most people over. So a good leader should watch out to not talk only to people’s heads but also touch their hearts as this creates a more passionate commitment.

Read more at Knowledge INSEAD

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