Donald Trump’s speaking style shows he lacks the benevolence necessary to be a good leader.
Leadership roots in the capacity to inspire trust. But trust doesn’t only mean that one is “believed.”
Trump was and is, indeed, believed by many people, but the way he speaks indicates that he hasn’t reached the highest level of trust – benevolence.
Trust in leaders happens at three different levels: great leaders show they can do what they’ve been hired to do – Ability. They show they will do it to the best of their ability – Integrity. And they show they care about the objective they’ve been hired to accomplish more than they care for themselves – Benevolence.
Ability – ‘I can’
It’s the layer of knowledge and skills necessary to perform a task.
Donald Trump has shown his ability to connect with the audience – when the audience matters to him.
The “banter-room talk” we heard him having with Billy Bush in the Access Hollywood tape granted him entrance into his supporters’ living rooms. There was Donald, sitting at their kitchen table, one month before the election, confidentially sharing with them how he grabbed women, etcetera. In that tape, his voice is smooth, almost like whispering into his friends’ ears.
As strategist Roger L. Martin lays out in this Harvard Business Review article, Trump created a new category for himself: that of the politically incorrect candidate. He consistently played the part, and he showed us how skilled he was at it.
Integrity – ‘I will’
Integrity entails keeping one’s word and showing loyalty to common agreed on principles.
During the campaign, Trump behaved with integrity toward his supporters. He consistently showed loyalty to the political incorrectness he had assumed as his brand category, in Roger L. Martin’s view. And he didn’t fail his supporters. At every rally, the same chants, the same rants.
I agree: it was the only moment when he sounded authentic. His voice went up and down over a pitch span from 70 to 320 Hz. Such wide a range between the highest and lowest tones makes speakers appear dynamic, invested in what they’re saying, taking ownership of their words.
At other times during the press conference, he was trying too hard to sound presidential, grave. Then, his voice became rough and guttural. This happens to speakers whose larynxes are accustomed to the strain of voicing too loud, when they speak at a conversational level and too low a pitch.
Benevolence – ‘I care’
Benevolence requires that we put the objective that we work for ahead of our own.
Benevolent presidents care for their country, citizens and voters (even those who didn’t vote for them), more than they care for themselves. They’re able to hear the ugly truth and to erase themselves from the picture because what matters is the success of the country.
Benevolent leaders think, “It’s not about me, it’s about them.” They don’t care whether they look good or bad, whether they’re being judged nicely or not.
Benevolent public speakers help the audience follow and understand their messages.
Trump doesn’t. This full transcript of the news conference that the NY Times published is literary fantasy compared to how Donald Trump actually delivered his prepared remarks.
Listen for example to this nonexistent transition between two independent ideas that Trump turns into an 11-second long run-on sentence. He said:
“…but I think we’re gonna do (pause: 0.12 seconds) a real (pause: 0.37 seconds) job and I’m very proud of what we’ve done and we haven’t even gotten there yet (pause + breathing: 0.41 seconds) I look very much forward to the inauguration it’s gonna be (pause + breathing: 0.50 seconds) a (pause: 0.12 seconds) beautiful event…”
The writers at the Times did what Trump should have done: they separated the different ideas by adding the missing pauses between them and edited his boundless word chunks into clear sentences, adding the missing periods and commas.
Trump’s was a continuous, Joycean soliloquy. He paused only to catch his breath or to retrieve the right word. Instead of guiding the listeners through his reasoning, he gave them a 15-minute long paragraph full of names and vague details. He never once marked the end of a sentence with falling intonation or the beginning of the next with a peak.
His speech showed a pattern: when the paragraph ended, he kept the intonation open, signaling that he was still talking. And only when the paragraph clearly was to go on, did he allow a pause.
It’s the typical strategy of those who don’t allow interruptions. Of those who forbid others to speak when they don’t like their opinions.
Those who silence journalists in press conferences.