Lights, Camera, Cohen… When Mesmerizing, Intoxicating Leadership Goes Seriously Wrong

Michael Cohen’s testimony last week about what he saw and did while working for Donald Trump was … eye-opening, to say the least. Not just in what he did, but in the way that he spoke of The Donald.

Cohen said Trump was “mesmerizing”. It was “intoxicating” working for him. “I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong.

Is this good leadership? Should you have your workers in such thrall to you that their judgment goes out the window? ­

Should a leader be romanticized, lionized, held up as infallible and more important than the organization itself?

Cohen said his job  – everybody’s job – “at the Trump organization was to protect Mr. Trump.” That definitely becomes problematic when protecting the leader comes at the expense of the organization.

And this isn’t a Trump thing. Look around you. Why do you know the names of so many business leaders? Zuckerberg, Musk,  Bezos, Dimond, Branson, Jobs… Because we like to hold up the leaders as special. And the leaders like to put themselves in a central position.

But you know what? Organizations with marquee-name (and ego) leaders tend to have worse performance over the long run than others without. That lack of judgment we talked about earlier? It shows up in other organizations too, not just at the Trump Organization.

When employees are in thrall to their boss, and think that the boss can’t make a misstep, their judgment goes out the window. And that affects a lot of things. From calling out an error the boss may make, to throwing out an idea in a meeting that may seem off the wall – but could be amazing. It could become criminal, or unethical. But what is certain is that this leadership style does not lead to great performance.

This doesn’t just happen with the top dogs, either. You can have a similar situation in a smaller scale, with a team leader, and it can effectively quash the team. You can’t have progress when you can’t have dissension and debate. One person does not have all the answers.

The jury’s out on what makes a truly great leader, someone people will follow and help achieve their goals. There are qualities they all possess, like excellent communication skills, a vision, passion, and a way to get people to buy into their vision, but there’s no magic recipe to unlock a great leader in everyone.

But there are skills you can acquire to make you a better, stronger leader. Our report on leadership offers some insight, and strategies to develop your leadership skills. It will help you inspire, influence others, and achieve results.

No promises on whether it will keep you out of jail, but that’s really on you and your choices!

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