Donald Trump was the ultimate boss. He was a flamboyant figure who bought and sold big properties with aplomb. He built a global brand out of his bluster, bravado, PR mastery, and love of gold. On The Apprentice (2004-2015), he put regular folks and celebrities alike through the paces and grew his celebrity by firing folks on national television. His supersized brand was only matched by his ego and ambition. And when embarrassed quite publicly during the 2011 National Correspondents Dinner after Barack Obama spent several minutes roasting him from the dais – his fragile ego was triggered to run for President, again, with the full backing of conservative media.
Many people thought he was joking, but Trump, as with most bosses - once ego gets into the equation - would have no limits to repair his frail dignity. On the campaign trail in 2015, he denigrated Mexicans and Africans as rapists and coming from shithole countries respectively. He bullied and berated his fellow Republican candidates in debates and on Twitter - to the point where most GOP lawmakers became afraid to cross him. He promised to bring “law and order” back to America by cracking down on illegal immigration and building a wall to prevent southern border crossings. He derided the mainstream media as "fake news" and invented the term "alternative facts". He was basically unhinged.
And when we learned that he was being prosecuted for fraud for his Trump University debacle, resulting in a $25 million settlement with students who said they were “duped”, we ignored it. And when he spoke of sexually assaulting women on a hot mic, it was deemed "locker room talk" - even after over 26 women alleged sexual misconduct by him. And when he actually won the election and lied about the size of his crowds at his inauguration - we joked about the fragility of his ego, but not the danger that this ego might present. And when soon thereafter he issued a Muslim ban on people from countries deemed dangerous to American interests - we didn't mark it as the beginning of a serious trend. And when he continued to lie and lie and lie over and over again, many became numb. When the media went on 24 hour Trump watch presenting his every word and action to the public and spinning it either positively (in the case of Fox News) or negatively in the case of everyone else, we got triggered almost daily, but mostly went about our lives. And when he called white supremacists in Charlottesville "very fine people". we didn't call for his resignation right then and there. And when and when and when and when....
What we know is this - if Trump truly was a corporate CEO displaying even 10% of the negative attributes he flaunted as President - he would have been terminated for cause without severance.
Standards in corporations on CEO behavior are higher than ever, yet many of these same CEO's invested heavily in Trump and his campaigns. Was this party loyalty, values blindness, or something more insidious like white supremacy and racism? It is true that 89% of the Fortune 500 CEO's are white men, so they probably relate to and even admire Trump in some ways - his freedom to say whatever he wants, his brashness in the face of unending criticism, his utter lack of conscience. Trump is like the fantasy version of what many of these men wish they could be.
But under his watch as the 45th President of the United States for the past four years, the country has become more divided than ever. Whereas in previous administrations our concern was rooting out global terrorism, under Trump - domestic terrorism has become emboldened. Despite being personally responsible for more than 371,000 deaths due to ripping up the pandemic playbook left for him by the Obama administration and making wearing a mask political versus a safety measure, he actually gained 11 million more votes in the 2020 election cycle versus in 2016 - despite clear evidence that his brand of authoritariansm was making the US weaker in every aspect.
Bossdom, which had been on the decline in the 2010's due to increased transparency, scrutiny, and expectations - under Trump gained a major and unexpected boost.
Bossdom can be defined as the pursuit of power at any and all costs. This need for power can directly be attributed to a toxic ego driven by a clear lack of love and a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and empathy. But power can never replace the holes left in someone who didn't get enough love or who's self-esteem is helplessly fragile. People with the boss affliction actually crave adulation and affection. They require examples of success and will lie and spin to create the perception of winning even if there is none. They demand absolute fealty and loyalty from their supporters and cannot deal with brutal truths. They cling to power or the perception of power as it is their only meager source of esteem.
So when the “ultimate Boss” leaves office on January 20, 2021, we should agree to retire Bossdom for good in our society. We have seen for ourselves what Bossdom on its highest level begets - toxic discourse, toxic environments, and toxic behaviors.
The assault on democracy seen on January 6th should burn in our minds as the living example of what we get when we value Bossdom over true leadership traits - humility, will, and empathy.
Whether Republican or Democrat, we should uphold the highest standards for our President and corporate leaders. Because if we allow Bossdom to persist, it may just be the end of our democracy and life as we know it.
Omar L. Harris is the managing partner at Intent Consulting, a firm dedicated to improving employee experience and organizational performance and author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams and The Servant Leader's Manifesto available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him Instagram, Twitter, and/or Linkedin for more information and engagement.