A Followership Lesson from a Marketing Director and President Donald Trump

This article is about a very important lesson from the world of leadership.

The lesson applies to all types of leaders – from company executives, through to Presidents of the United States.

The lesson is that effective leadership is dependent on active followership.

Let me first share with you something that I observed in a company that our TMI team was consulting to.

A new leader in the house

A new Marketing Director was appointed.

He was super-confident.

And, very soon after arriving, he was telling people what they were doing wrong. Most things in his eyes were wrong. Things needed to change.

It is understandable that the Marketing Director wanted to change things. Rather, the issue was in the way that he was delivering his message to the people whose support he needed – his team members and his peers. His comments had a sting in their tail. They could be abrasive and hurtful.

Soon after he arrived, I predicted to one of my team members that this Marketing Director would “fall on his own sword” – he would not last.

Leaders need followers

To be effective, a leader needs supportive followers.

This is what happened.

The Marketing Director’s team members and key stakeholders in other departments slowly withdrew active support. They turned up, but they did not tune into this leader’s agenda.

There were elements of passive-aggressive behaviour, where team members worked slowly or focused on other priorities.  Relationships with key players and peers in other departments had been damaged. They focused on other priorities rather than energetically supporting the efforts of the Marketing Director.

With this loss of support, the Marketing Director become isolated and neutralised. He became frustrated and ineffective.

He ended up leaving.

In the case of President Trump…

There are many similarities between what happened in the case of the Marketing Director and with President Trump.

He came to office with a change agenda.

However, to make that agenda happen, he needs the support of members of his own party and the bureaucracy.

A leader who is under attack, would expect his or her team members to rally around him, to form a strong circle of defence. I may be a long way from the scene, but I do not see high nor widespread levels of fervent support coming from the team members that President Trump needs the most – sitting Members of his own party.

To be effective, a leader must build relationships of trust and confidence with team members and stakeholders.

To be effective, a leader must have willing followers and supportive stakeholders.

It appears that President Trump, like the Marketing Director, is becoming isolated from his followers and from key stakeholder groups.

If we were to predict what the result will be, based on lessons from the leadership jungle, then we could look to what happened to the Marketing Director.

However, politics is a complex and ever-changing jungle.

Only time will tell.

And, more to the point, what lessons can you learn from the Marketing Director and from President Trump? How healthy is the state of active followership in your team?

What can you do to build the levels of followership, where team members tune into your leadership agenda, and play an active and dynamic role to make it happen?

Food for thought.

Until next time.


George Aveling is the Australian-born CEO of TMI Malaysia, a customer-experience consultancy. TMI has offices in 45 countries of the world. If you would like to contact George direct, feel free to email him at george@tmimalaysia.com.my

3 thoughts on “A Followership Lesson from a Marketing Director and President Donald Trump

  1. Thanks for your feedback, Eric. We commonly speak of leaders having “close circle of trusted advisers”. However, effective leadership requires more than that – it requires a wide circle of active followers.


  2. Thanks George . A really good summary of a key leadership factor – which is rarely mentioned on leadership courses! Best regards Eric


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