• Terry R. Bacon

Profiles in Power: Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a paradox. He lacks many of the traditional sources of human power, and he primarily uses negative influence tactics as a leader, yet he is undeniably powerful and influential, even after losing the presidency and leaving office. As someone who has spent much of his professional life researching leadership, power, and influence, I have been puzzled by Trump’s ability to build and sustain an extraordinary amount of power despite personal flaws and copious failures that would cripple most other leaders in his position.

In this paper, I will examine Trump’s sources of power and his use of influence techniques and then focus on the single technique he uses most often to sustain a phenomenal amount of influence, particularly in today’s Republican Party.

The Sources of Human Power

Power and influence go hand in hand. To wield influence, a person must have power. The research on power shows that people have eleven common sources of power: five personal sources (knowledge, expressiveness, history, attraction, and character), five organizational sources (role, resources, information, network, and reputation), and one meta-source—will. To learn more about these power sources, visit www.powerandinfluence.com or read my book The Elements of Power: Lessons in Leadership and Influence.

I examined Donald Trump’s power sources using observations of his presidency and his life and reading books and articles written by people who worked with him and know his style well. This analysis was challenging because Trump has a grandiose view of himself, so his statements about himself must be leavened by an objective view of his behavior, as well as observations by people who were in his inner circle like Michael Cohen, John Bolton, and James Mattis.

I also considered views by Trump loyalists, but their views had to be assessed in light of their unwillingness to speak out against Trump for fear of retaliation. Considering all sources, I rated Trump’s power sources on a 1 to 10 scale, as shown in the chart below. This chart depicts Donald Trump’s Power Profile, i.e., the strength of each of his power sources.

Trump’s Strongest Power Sources

Donald Trump has four major sources of power: his role as president, his extraordinary drive or will power, his effective use of media, and his control of resources, financial and otherwise.

Role power was extremely high for Trump (10 out of 10) when he was president. He was able to make executive decisions by himself, often contrary to the advice of his senior advisors and cabinet members. Now that he is out of office, his role power has diminished substantially. Today, he is a private citizen and holds no defined post in the Republican Party; however, many Republicans consider him the unofficial head of the Party, and that entitlement gives him a limited but nonetheless real amount of role power, even as a private citizen.

I have divided Expressiveness into three subcategories. In his speech, he scores extremely low. He has a flat voice and speaks with little affect, which makes him sound wooden and artificial. Moreover, his language use is at the fifth-grade level. However, during his presidency, he was very savvy about messaging through social media. His use of Twitter, in particular, gave him a broad platform to express his views and energize his base. Post-presidency, his media use has diminished considerably, partly because he was banned on Facebook and Twitter and partly because he has not found alternate platforms with nearly the reach of Twitter and Facebook. That may change as he resumes his rallies and finds other more receptive social media platforms. However, he attempted to create his own social media platform (From the Desk of Donald J. Trump) and it failed quickly because so few people signed up.

Will power is one of Trump’s greatest strengths. His tenacity and determination took him to the White House. There is no question that is willpower is very high and remains so after leaving office. He has all-but-articulated a desire to run for president again in 2024 and may do so if conditions are favorable.

Resource power has been and remains one of Trump’s key sources of power. Although his exact net worth is unknown and controversial (he apparently has often claimed to be worth more than he actually is), it is clear that he controls hundreds of millions of dollars and owns many properties (although we don’t know to what extent they are mortgaged and otherwise have debt associated with them). His control of financial resources gives him considerable power.

Network power has traditionally been a moderate source of strength for Trump. He gained the presidency by building a network of supporters and donors, including some people like Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, who were initially opponents and critics, and some powerful spokespeople at Fox News, who acted as his mouthpieces to his base. After leaving office, he has maintained part of his network of Republican cronies and donors. However, post-presidency, he is not the network hub he used to be, and some former members of his networks have deserted him for various reasons.

Trump’s Weakest Power Sources