Given his coarse manner and blithe sexist and racist remarks over the course of the 2016 US presidential race, anyone who followed the campaign would hold it that the eventual winner Donald Trump could not by any measure be considered sensitive, going by the common definition of that word. Yet by the definition set in my book The Success Genome Unravelled, Mr. Trump fully merits the placement of sensitivity among his meagre positive attributes.
In that work, I defined sensitivity as the capacity to develop awareness of the unstated needs of people, and lamented the failure of business schools to develop a method for cultivating this quality in managers, a quality I listed among the seven critical attributes of a leader. While reading stars in the sky to tell the fortunes of men has long been out of fashion, reading the stars in their eyes to divine their unvoiced needs will always be a valuable undertaking. The man who sets out to be a leader of men should never forget this.
Typically, leaders are told to encourage people always to speak up so that their needs can be known and addressed. This is all very well but like I noted in my book, the purveyors of this piece of advice miss a simple point: shyness, fear, and embarrassment either individually or in some combination make it impossible for people to be completely open about their needs. Yet the leader, to be effective, may need to know these concealed needs. Only by recourse to sensitivity shall they come to that knowledge.
This is what played out in the election. A large number of Trump supporters found it embarrassing to admit openly that they were behind him given the popular view of Trump as a near dimwit. Furthermore, a huge swathe of this constituency also harboured anti-immigrant and racist attitudes that they were unwilling to own up to but which they regarded as a cornerstone for the betterment of their economic and social situation. By summoning his facility for sensitivity, Trump was able to exploit these facts and sustain his considerable campaign effort even when polls showed him slipping far behind Hillary in the final weeks of the race. He announced to the world time and again that there was a hidden vein of voters sympathetic to him that could not be detected by pollsters but which would reveal itself on Election Day. (He went ahead to demonstrate his faith in that hunch by injecting another $10m of his personal money into his campaign on the final stretch.) No one believed him except his dissembling supporters. And throughout the campaign, Trump consistently addressed issues that by his sensitivity instincts he knew avoided the light on voters’ lips but flew about in the darkness deep inside them.
Victory was his reward. And with victory came the poems, like this one I wrote:
When darkness falls on the fortunes of men
And dark clouds of shame gather about their brows
There’re stars that rise deep in their eyes.
There they stand frozen
Beaming forth a message
For the shepherd of men to seek and read.
By these stars he divines their sorest need
And by them he navigates to lofty thrones,
Carrying his broken flock to golden hills
Willed by Heaven as their dwelling place.
There’s a new leader come in America
That found his way to the White House
Following the twinkle of these stars
That like the flash of beacons
Did bid him to the right turns on the mazy path to power:
Here to the right, there to the right again;
Further down the road to the right once more
And thence to glory.
By his triumph, the story of Moses in Hillary unfolded:
His sour fate she came to share.
The glass ceiling she struck with her golden staff
And like the Red Sea at once it parted.
Through it she set off on her long march
Beating a path for our womenfolk
To the Promised Office across the desert.
But soon she tripped on her dozen faults
To be condemned by grieving Heaven
To see, to approach, the Promised Office
But never once to reach it.
(Author-poet Agona Apell is the author of The Success Genome Unravelled: Turning men from rot to rock)