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Insiders, Outsiders and Trump Mania – Can a Successful Leader in One Career Always be Successful in Others?


I guess like everyone else I have been following the GOP candidates show closely. Because of my interest in leadership, I am less focused on the ideological issues than of which of the candidates are most likely to be successful in the top leadership position of the US Presidency.

The age-old issue is this; if you have been successful in one leadership position, will you be as successful if you move to a leadership position in a totally different area?

Nope, I’m not talking about, moving from one company to another or from one industry to another. What I am talking about is moving from one sector to another; private to public sector; military to political; nonprofit to private and so on. In this context an ‘insider’ is one who has stayed inside a sector and an “outsider” is one who has moved from one sector and wants to move to another.

Before I go there, just a quick summary on what little we do know. In the private sector we know that company insiders usually do far better than outsider. The only time outsiders do better is when the culture is so inbred that it needs someone who shakes things up completely. Sergio Marchionne in Fiat/Chrysler is such an example, but he’s definitely one of a kind.

We also know that when leaders move from the private to the public sector, it’s usually unsuccessful. Ross Perot is a good example but there are many others. The objectives and styles are so different that it’s a rare person who has the mental agility to be able to make the change. The reverse, moving from the public to the private sector is always almost a bust for all the obvious reasons.

Moving from the private sector to nonprofits is similar. Usually people fail. Bill Gates is an exception. But then he runs his own nonprofit organization instead of being an employee so probably here the exception proves the rule. Just look at how unsuccessful Mark Zuckerberg has been with his donation to the school system in Newark. Again moving from nonprofit to private sector is almost always a bust too.

Moving between nonprofit and public sectors seems to be different since neither operates according to the rules of efficiency and profit so the change is relatively easy. But to the extent that a nonprofit does try to run efficiently or at a profit, the transition is going to be that much more difficult. So you have to look at the characteristics of the organizations involved.

There’s another transition that most people are not aware of that’s equally problematic. That is the transition between large and small organizations, such as a large private sector company and a startup. These moves usually fail although there are honorable exceptions. Moving from a large organization of any type to a startup almost always ends in failure and even moving the other way isn’t much better.

So with all this in mind, how would the main GOP candidates stack up if they actually were elected to the august office of the US presidency?

Trump: A true outsider. Only ever been in the private sector; no public sector experience whatsoever; always owned his own company; never had to submit to a board or real corporate governance. Almost certainly a massive bust if he ever got to POTUS, which in any case I seriously doubt.

Fiorina: she is apparently a private sector type, then on the surface she wouldn’t fit either. But that’s a serious misreading of her true background. Almost her entire professional career was in Lucent, part of the old AT&T and a regulated industry, essentially run like a government department. That’s why she failed in HP – no true private sector background; actually she was a private sector outsider. So she’s really an insider. She would fit pretty well in my opinion.

Carson: Seen as an outsider. That is totally mistaken. Entire career in government aka hospitals. An insider. He would do fine as POTUS.

Rubio: Entire career as politician, definitely an insider. Known to be profligate and careless with money. So he would be totally in his element as POTUS.

Kasich: almost entire career as politician; fits in perfectly as insider.

Bush: with some short exceptions, always a politician so consummate insider; no problems fitting in as POTUS.

Christie: One of the rare cross-overs. Started off as lawyer in private practice then moved into government as prosecutor and then into politics. An outsider who has made good as an insider. Probably the highest level of mental agility of all the GOP candidates. Of course that has no bearing on whether or not he’ll be selected as the GOP nominee.

So there you have it. The only true outsider is Trump and he would fail miserably. The rest are insiders and would fit in well. Christie is the only one to make a successful transition from outsider to insider.

Of course that doesn’t mean any of the above would be a great or even a good President.

Just another perspective.







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