The election of Donald Trump has proven that the American people are open to the idea of a businessperson as president. Trump’s presidency has paved the way for other business leaders to try their hand, including Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, who recently stepped down at the beloved coffee chain from his position and is now considering a bid for the White House.
Many of our nation’s presidents — from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, and our current commander in chief — have made the argument that we should “run our country like a business.” This is a flawed idea, and certainly one that deserves to be questioned.
A nation, after all, is not a business. A country’s success is not measured merely in profits and sustainable growth. And yet, perhaps there is something to be gained by examining the qualities that make for a great business leader and applying them to the world of politics.
Let’s start with Howard Schultz, since he has made his career in business and is now considering running for president. As CEO of Starbucks, Schultz has overseen staggering growth at the company in the time he has been there, but he has not sacrificed his integrity or the company’s ethics in order to achieve success.
In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Schultz has played an important role in creating and maintaining an organizational culture with clearly defined values. It seems, as president, he would aim to do the very same. When addressing the current political climate in America, Schultz said, “I think we’ve seen such vitriolic display of bigotry and hate and divisiveness, and that is not the leadership we need for the future of the country.”
The best business leaders understand that a company can achieve more when all stakeholders work together. Imagine if the CEO of a company went into a monthly team meeting and started pitting people against each other. “Hey Stan! Julia over here? Yeah right there. She thinks you’re no good at your job!” Imagine the fallout that would result. Who can be productive under such conditions?
In business, an organization is only as strong as the sum of its parts. Causing rifts between the people who are the very heart and soul of a company — or a country — is a quick way to ensure that nothing meaningful ever gets accomplished.
The right business leader would recognize this and bring the same attention to unity to their role as president. In doing so, they would be one step closer to gaining people’s trust, another essential element in business success, and one that is crucial to running a country as well.
In fact, trust in the federal government has been declining since the 1960s, in conjunction with declining voter turnout. That’s no coincidence. The less people trust their politicians, the less motivated they are to go out and vote, and the harder it is for anything to get accomplished. The same goes for a business.
A 2002 study by Watson Wyatt revealed that widely trusted publicly traded companies generated a blended (stock price plus dividends) return to shareholders 286 percent higher than organizations with low levels of trust. That’s a pretty significant way to generate almost three times the return to shareholders.
When it comes to doing business at almost any level, trust affects speed and cost. When trust is low between two partners in a transaction, speed drops and costs rise. When trust between the two sides is high, speed rises and costs fall. That’s a Trust Dividend.
And the same principles apply in government and in society at large.
We look to those in power, our leaders, whether in business or in government, as role models for our behavior and values. Truly successful business leaders focus on what’s best for all constituencies and thus engender loyalty and dedication, which, in turn, ensures growth and success. They know what can be gained from respecting and valuing all people, celebrating diversity, and exhibiting openness, honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, consistency and transparency. Shouldn’t our leaders in the White House and Congress be held to this high standard as well?
It bears repeating: a nation is not a business and cannot be run as such. However, the qualities that make for a great leader in business are arguably the very same qualities that make for a great president. Voters clearly see the sense in that, which is why they are drawn to the idea of electing a businessperson to lead the country.
Unfortunately for the voters, Donald Trump the Businessman leaves much to be desired. The way he has conducted business is not what most other successful businesspeople strive to emulate. But perhaps another businessperson, one who embodies values-based leadership, could be exactly what America needs.