Trump flunks US Army’s own leadership checklist

How unfit for the presidency is Donald Trump? The term “unfit” has been bandied about quite a lot since January 2017, when Trump was sworn in to office. But how, exactly, do we define “unfit”  as the term applies specifically to the presidency of the United States? We can look to the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but it lacks a clear definition, stating only that the President can be removed if he “is unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office.

We all know that Trump ran for president by saying that he was a great CEO and that he’d run the country like a business. I have my doubts about his effectiveness as a business leader. But even if he is somehow as good as he has bragged about, a president is not a CEO [he has yet to figure this out], nor is the White House a mob-family compound. Presidents of the United States need a completely different set of skills and personality traits from presidents of family owned real-estate conglomerates with no accountability, bosses of crime syndicates and “Dear Leaders” of authoritarian regimes.

But what are those skills? In a recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, psychiatrist Prudence L. Gourguechon describes her search through professional literature for definitions of leadership – a search that led to many descriptions of business leadership, but few that defined the characteristics needed to carry out  the “powers and duties” of the presidency.

She finally found what she was looking for in a most intriguing place: The U.S. Army’s Field Manual , which contains a 135-page subsection [FM 6-22, published in 2015] entitled, “Leader Development.” After studying the document [so we don’t have to], Gorguechon distilled the Army’s criteria for high-level, strategic leadership into the five categories quoted below.

While it’s tempting to cite examples of Trump’s unfit behaviors regarding each of these traits, there are simply too many to list — and even the most casual observer of the man’s words and actions knows what we’re talking about here. So, I’m going to quote Gorguechon without comment and let you remember your own favorite, illustrative moments from the Trump presidency so far.


According to the Army, trust is fundamental to the functioning of a team or alliance in any setting: “Leaders shape the ethical climate of their organization while developing the trust and relationships that enable proper leadership.” A leader who is deficient in the capacity for trust makes little effort to support others, may be isolated and aloof, may be apathetic about discrimination, allows distrustful behaviors to persist among team members, makes unrealistic promises and focuses on self-promotion.”

Discipline and self-control

The manual requires that a leader demonstrate control over his behavior and align his behavior with core Army values: “Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.” The disciplined leader does not have emotional outbursts or act impulsively, and he maintains composure in stressful or adverse situations. Without discipline and self-control, a leader may not be able to resist temptation, to stay focused despite distractions, to avoid impulsive action or to think before jumping to a conclusion. The leader who fails to demonstrate discipline reacts “viscerally or angrily when receiving bad news or conflicting information,” and he “allows personal emotions to drive decisions or guide responses to emotionally charged situations.”

Judgment and critical thinking

These are complex, high-level mental functions that include the abilities to discriminate, assess, plan, decide, anticipate, prioritize and compare. A leader with the capacity for critical thinking “seeks to obtain the most thorough and accurate understanding possible,” the manual says, and he anticipates “first, second and third consequences of multiple courses of action.” A leader deficient in judgment and strategic thinking demonstrates rigid and inflexible thinking.


Self-awareness requires the capacity to reflect and an interest in doing so. “Self-aware leaders know themselves, including their traits, feelings, and behaviors,” the manual says. “They employ self-understanding and recognize their effect on others.” When a leader lacks self-awareness, the manual notes, he “unfairly blames subordinates when failures are experienced” and “rejects or lacks interest in feedback.”


Perhaps surprisingly, the field manual repeatedly stresses the importance of empathy as an essential attribute for Army leadership. A good leader “demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view” and “identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.” The manual’s description of inadequacy in this area: “Shows a lack of concern for others’ emotional distress” and “displays an inability to take another’s perspective.”

In a political and cultural environment in which the military is revered nearly to the point of worship, the U.S. Army’s take on leadership is especially relevant, and it’s worthy of serious consideration. You have to wonder what the people who wrote this section of the Field Manual are thinking when they evaluate their current commander-in-chief against these principles, and as they try to instill these values into up-and-coming leaders. If they really believe in what they have written, the irony must be very, very painful.