The first digital President – What does President Trump’s communications style mean?

Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has used Twitter to communicate, and has received a mixed basket of positive and negative feedback while doing so.
He understands that, to reach people today, he cannot ignore the digital world, filtered or not.
And that seems to be one of the appealing factors about President Trump…not that he is always right, but that he makes a decision, communicates what he feels, and apologizes or not later.
Many leaders – name any country – need to be fleet of foot, making decisions at crucial hours, taking critical action that will produce lasting ramifications, with consequences good or bad.  Leaders need to be thoughtful about what they do, but they cannot dwell too long on what might be. Leaders are leaders around the world, all things being equal, because they take action.
And the best leaders use a two-way street to communicate.  Message sent, message received.  And, if this can be done all in 140 characters or less, so much the better.
Donald Trump’s leadership approach has been characterized already as ‘unorthodox’ and ‘chaotic.’  These descriptors seem to encapsulate President Trump’s campaign – a campaign that changed the playing field for American politics – but, also a campaign coming on the heels of Brexit in the U.K. and preceding speculation about dynamic scenarios in places like France, the Netherlands, and Germany, all countries to hold elections this year.
And, as in any dialogue, each of those encoding and decoding messages strive for understanding each other.
Certainly, Donald Trump is new to the political stage, and he must now forge relationships with other leaders around the world who are also waiting and watching to see and hear what is communicated next and when.
How he chooses to do the latter and relate to each leader around the world will mirror his style that seemed to result in his election to the Presidency…frankness, deflection, rebuttal, decisiveness, relatability, as well as frequent and often communication.
While much of this is cultural and personality-driven, his style seems to contrast markedly with those such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Angela Merkel, or Brazil’s Michel Temer.
However, they share their conservative political outlook.  In Sweden Prime Minister Stefan Löfven indicates his country is concerned but prepared for a Trump Presidency even as the country engages in negotiations regarding its citizens in the Brexit climate.
Like Donald Trump, Italy’s Sergio Mattarella is basically just beginning his term, so both men will be learning their way around the comedy and tragedy defining the world.
Donald Trump will have several months to become acquainted with France’s François Hollande, but he has decided not to seek re-election anyway.  Thus, upcoming elections in France this year could usher in an anti-establishment candidate in Marie le Pen, someone who, herself – communication style aside – is appealing to voters who just want a change, a distancing from 2016, and a way forward – much like those in Britain with Brexit and in the U.S. with President Trump.
And a great deal of press has been devoted to Donald Trump’s forging of relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Will styles clash or mesh? Naturally, deft strategies and tactics must be employed to understand and recognize political positions but also cultural nuances and personal backgrounds.  All of this understanding fosters good relations which help foster good communications in any international deal.
Leveraging his business acumen as well as his maverick communication style propelling him to the Presidency, it will be both sides of the communication equation in which Donald Trump will engage with each country leader, to aim to work with each personally and professionally.
Yet, for all of the scripting and unseen ‘winging it’ behind a podium, our government leaders are trying to play in a digital sandbox.  The Internet is a bit like the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque and Industrial Revolution periods combined…with a dash of 21st-century innovation thrown in.
It is a bowl of oatmeal – nothing clear or defined but all combined in a functioning, appetizing ‘hot mess.’  Leaders are not immune to criticism in their online personas – leaders are just as susceptible to critiques on their social media communication styles and messages as is the voter in Oslo or the nightclub owner in Paris.  Leaders have a position, demeanor and responsibility to uphold, but, in the social media world, it becomes an-every-person-for-him- or herself environment.
Cynthia L. Miller, M.B.A., Managing Director, Braun Research, Inc.
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