President Donald Trump’s strong “innovative” leadership traits — coupled with a lack of self-awareness and an inability to adapt his style when needed — contributed to his mishandling of the Black Lives Matter protests and could result in his election downfall this November, says a Virginia Tech expert.

“President Trump could benefit by listening to his more adaptive advisors as he continues to address the complexities facing the U.S. To get the best and most accepted solution, complex problems of today require diversity of thought in problem solving styles,” said Curt Friedel, an assistant professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Center for Cooperative Problem Solving.

Friedel uses the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory as the basis of his opinion, which has implications for teamwork and leading change.

“Even the most successful ‘ground-breaking, outside-of-the-box’ solutions need adaptive input for successful implementation and adoption throughout society,” Friedel said. “But everyone within the party, especially the leader, must respect each other’s different ways of working – if not, failure is inevitable.” 

President Trump displays classic traits of a more innovative leader, which includes thinking of ideas outside of the box, being less amendable to structure, bending the rules and working outside the edges of the system — aiming to do things differently, Friedel said.

“We’ve seen criticism throughout Trump’s presidency for doing things and saying things that are not customary of a president like discrediting the FBI and certain judges and claiming total authority as president of the United States, which tests the boundaries of the constitution,” Friedel said. “More recently, we’ve witnessed President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 international pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which are internally-oriented issues in the country, and both of which people are looking for more structure for resolution.”

Friedel said a more adaptive leader, who prefers stability and structure, will look to make changes within the system, prone to inside-the-box thinking.

“Trump’s innovative leadership style has failed in addressing both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter issues in any form of resolution involving detail, legislation, or policy showing that some adaptive leadership needs to be employed soon or it could end his presidency,” he said.

Friedel says neither leadership style – innovative or adaptive — is better than the other.

“Great leaders show strong self-awareness of their own style and of others; conscious of how it affects their decision making and those around them, and therefore any need for change. They use this personal insight to bring conflicting styles together to work in harmony and to reach a resolution on a shared problem; whereas, Trump is becoming increasingly more combative,” Friedel said.

Curt Friedel is an assistant professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Center for Cooperative Problem Solving. Virginia Tech photo.

Portrait of Curt Friedel
Curt Friedel is an assistant professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Center for Cooperative Problem Solving. Virginia Tech photo.

About Friedel

Friedel has significant experience with identifying ways to help organizations solve problems through adaptation and innovation. Friedel’s current research program is focused on problem solving and critical thinking as it relates to leadership and managing change. Friedel has authored or co-authored numerous research articles on problem-solving and leadership. View his bio.

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Friedel, contact Zeke Barlow or Max Esterhuizen in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications and Marketing office at bzeke@vt.edu or max.esterhuizen@vt.edu.