This is What Bad Leadership Looks Like

Barry Moline
7 min readJul 23, 2020


Credit: The Colorado Independent

It’s good to learn from experience, and a bad experience can serve as a good example of what not to do.

Today, most folks agree our nation is in trouble, with multiple problems and a variety of disputes on how to resolve them. Rather than bringing people together to tackle these tough societal struggles, President Trump is choosing sides, ignoring the best ideas, and picking fights with the people who have real solutions. It’s a great example of inferior leadership.

Thanks President Trump; you’re serving as a good example of how not to lead.

Before discussing a litany of Trump’s leadership failings, let’s recognize that Trump actually has one leadership asset: he is a bully. Sometimes leaders need to be forceful in their positions to get things done. The problem here is that the president is uninformed and leading the country down the wrong path.

Of course, there are plenty of positive ways to motivate — but since Trump is a bully, let’s recognize that he’s not even doing that effectively.

Our country is in a terrible pickle. The coronavirus is ravaging our country from coast to coast, and is now exploding in corners of the nation that completely dissed the New York region in the spring as it suffered through an apocalyptic outbreak of coronavirus disease. The tables have turned, and now the rest of the country is in distress. Our nation has even become a pariah to Canada, Europe, and elsewhere, as they are restricting Americans from visiting until we get control of new COVID cases. Even Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays are restricted from playing in Canada, as Canadians don’t want U.S. baseball players visiting. The United States is an embarrassment and is pitied by the rest of world.

Here’s a crazy idea! Since Trump did such a poor job of it, perhaps Biden ought to adopt Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. We’ve certainly fallen far under Trump’s abdication of leadership.

Real Leadership

Leadership is motivating people to act to achieve a common goal. True leaders do one thing well: they take initiative to help others and make things happen. They understand the problem and work cooperatively with others to find solutions that work.

That’s the opposite of what we’ve gotten from Trump, and fortunately, we are seeing great leadership from some governors. A few months ago Maryland couldn’t get the coronavirus testing kits needed to understand the infections of COVID in its state, even though the Trump administration was falsely reporting there were enough kits available. Maryland tried to work with Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, but found FEMA was competing with all the states for the kits, driving up prices for limited supplies. Governor Larry Hogan took matters into his own hands, and with his Korean-born wife, negotiated a private deal with South Korea, chartered a secret plane and got the kits for Maryland citizens. They even landed the Korean Air supply plane at the Baltimore-Washington airport, protected by the Maryland National Guard so FEMA would not confiscate the kits. When the federal government should have been cooperating and helping the state, Maryland was afraid the Feds would steal their supplies. What Governor Hogan did — that’s leadership.

Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, held daily press conferences where he updated and motivated his nervous constituents, and answered all reporter’s questions so everyone could stay informed. While Cuomo was somewhat embattled before the coronavirus descended upon New York, he won high marks for encouraging New Yorkers through an extremely difficult time. He listened to his advisors and took action that led to finally crushing the number of cases in the state. He also worked closely with Governors from Connecticut and New Jersey to implement consistent region-wide measures to change consumer behavior and reduce COVID cases. That’s leadership.

President Trump has taken the opposite approach. Instead of leading, he acts the victim. This whole COVID thing is happening to him, not to the country. People are sick and dying? Get used to it, folks. As Trump said, let it “wash over” our country, and “ride it like a cowboy… ride that sucker!

Here’s a list of Trump’s utter lack of leadership:

· He failed to get FEMA to coordinate its massive purchasing capacity with the states to jointly procure the large amount of PPE needed nationwide.

· He proclaimed that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” which was a flat-out lie.

· He claims he shut down travel from China, but he never stopped Americans returning home from those places, nor did his order disallow entry by Chinese citizens who transited through other countries. And he completely ignored travelers from Europe who introduced coronavirus on the east coast, infecting families and communities.

· He has tried to discredit the world-renown Centers for Disease Control as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most trusted infectious disease scientist in the U.S., and maybe the world.

· He has completely misled the country on masks, and made fun of people wearing masks, claiming they want to be “politically correct.”

· He pushed the untested hydroxychloroquine as a COVID therapeutic, which causes heart rhythm problems and has been delisted by the FDA, after further study.

· He suggested we could ingest disinfectants (like Lysol) and “bring light inside the body” to kill the virus.

· He said we’re just putting out a few “embers” and “ashes” as COVID rages through Texas, Florida and Arizona.

· He says he’s doing a “great job” fighting COVID.

· In February he said COVID was like the flu and would go away when it warms up in April.

· When there were 15 cases in the U.S., he didn’t want to let people depart a cruise ship in Oakland because he didn’t want his numbers to look bad. Now there are 3.7 million cases in the U.S. and more than 140,000 deaths, the most in the world. Experts predict the death toll in the coming months will rise above 200,000, or higher. The U.S. represents 4% of the world population has 25% of the cases, and 24% of the deaths. So much for not looking bad.

· He’s now imploring kids to return to school in the fall and refusing to provide any CDC guidance to schools. This will lead to more sickness and death of Americans.

· He has taken control of the CDC’s health reporting records, seeking to limit public information about COVID cases and deaths.

· He’s doing nothing to rein in or sanction Russia as it’s reported that they are seeking to steal our COVID vaccine research.

Sadly, there’s more. In the most boneheaded move I’ve seen from a supposed leader, the president claims that more testing creates more cases of COVID, so he ordered the federal government to “slow the testing down,” as he told one recent audience. The testing has slowed and we now have a testing crisis. Suggesting that less testing leads to fewer cases is like saying if we don’t test women thought to be pregnant, we’ll have fewer pregnancies. Pretty dang dumb — especially when the babies start being born. What a surprise! Where’d those babies come from?

I provide this “lack of leadership” list not because I don’t like President Trump, but because I think it’s vital to understand the depth of his leadership ineptitude. It is strikingly dreadful. Personally, in 2016 I had much higher hopes for his presidency but have come to realize he is actually incapable of true leadership.

Trump has turned mask-wearing into a political declaration, that if you don’t wear a mask, you stand for individual freedom at all costs, and you reject anyone telling you what to do, like wearing a mask to protect society from your COVID. Under this president’s leadership, we would have never made automobile seatbelts mandatory, even though they save thousands of lives each year. We are constantly learning new information about the dangers of COVID, and how it infects. We’ve learned it easily spreads via breathing and talking, so wearing a mask is a great frontline action to slow transmission of the disease.

What could Trump do to turn things around, and actually lead? For starters, he could wear a mask. Trump did that once, 99 days after mask wearing was recommended by the CDC. His political base follows him pretty closely, and seeing him wear a mask would give them the role modeling they need to take action to protect themselves and their fellow citizens. That would be true leadership.

A key characteristic of leadership is doing the right thing at the right time. Trump has known for months it’s a good idea to wear a mask, as his aides, fellow Republicans, Fox News, Sean Hannity, and even Vice President Pence, have been saying and doing. But he refused, saying he doesn’t want to look ‘ridiculous’ in a mask. Now that he’s losing in the polls, he’s finally motivated to say it’s Ok to wear a mask. Way to go! But he still refuses to bring people together to do the basics, like coordinate and expand testing, or work with medical and education experts to determine how best to return children to school.

Sadly, I predict President Trump will continue to serve as a great, sad example of how not to lead.

And here’s how YOU can lead to stop the spread of coronavirus: 1) wear a mask, 2) wash your hands, and 3) physical distance. Be a leader.


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Barry Moline

Barry Moline is a 25+ year CEO. He wrote a book, Connect!, on how to build great teams. He also speaks regularly on Teamwork and Leadership.