Wednesday, 01 July 2020 13:26

Tale of Two Leaders: Jurgen Kloop and Donald Trump

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When Donald Trump ascended to the presidency in 2016, the United States was a global leader, a world power that exuded immense global influence. The US was held in high regard by their NATO allies due to their ability and willingness to support the military alliance.

Four years later, the United States is described by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, as having lost its position as a world power with its global influence declining significantly. The French President, Emmanuel Macron called on his European allies to forge a European “strategic autonomy” so that European leaders may defend the continent “without reliance on the US”. This very significant shift in how the United States is perceived worldwide occurred during the presidency of Donald Trump.

When Jorgen Klopp joined Liverpool, it was drifting away from its glory days as a team to be reckoned with. A once towering giant of football supremacy was flirting with mediocrity, having spent two decades without a Premier League title. Jurgen Kloop revitalized and transformed a creaking institution of the past into a behemoth, with the team transitioning from being in the 10th position in the League to becoming the European Champions, and has now returned Liverpool to their domestic perch as Premier League Champions, exceeding all expectations.

A deep dive into differentiating factors between both leadership styles can reveal how specific leadership behaviors play a defining role in shaping success, as well as breeding failure. This article compares and contrasts both leaders within the context of how both leaders ‘sense and respond’ based on their ability to ‘connect people and collect knowledge’.


Sense and Respond

The global uproar due to the heavy-handed manner in which police officers killed George Floyd was unprecedented. Everyone was up in arms against police brutality against people of color. Black Lives Matter trended globally on social media.

This very significant shift in popular mood was keenly sensed by local American politicians, who had no other option but to respond to this crisis. Monuments of public figures who championed of slavery and racial segregation in the past was removed in many cities across the US. The US state of Mississippi passed a resolution to replace the state flag with one without the Confederate emblem. This was done to assuage the rising tide of anger against entrenched systematic abuse against African Americans.

In sharp contrast to other American politicians, President Trump’s response to anti-racist protesters was deny their cause as being a justified cause. He swiftly signed an executive order to protect the monuments of men who fought to preserve slavery at the expense of the union. He ignored and at times contradicted the actions of local US politicians.

President Trump’s COVID 19 response also illuminates his leadership deficiencies. Despite repeated warnings from the US infectious disease chief Dr. Anthony Fauci that the nation has a "serious problem", the President routinely dismisses his top man’s advice. He refuses to wear face masks and insists that the spike in COVID 19 cases is rising purely based on “too many tests” being done.

Clearly Donald Trump appears unable or unwilling to accurately sense what is happening around him. As a result, his response is not only inappropriate but totally contrary to how a leader should respond in times of a crises.

Jurgen Klopp on the other hand has remained focused on the mission ahead of him ever since he joined Liverpool. He could sense that he needed the support of everyone who had a stake in helping him achieve success. Jurgen Klopp was obsessively immaculate in detailed planning and displayed flawless execution of his plans in the field. His planning was always done in collaboration with experts. He has been quoted as saying: "I know I'm good at a couple of things and really good at a few things and that's enough. My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me. That's no problem. I need experts around me."

A good example was how he sensed the leadership qualities within Jordan Henderson, signed by Kenny Dalglish in June 2011. Klopp recognized that Jordan Henderson needs to continue to play a leading role in inspiring the team despite his declining form. He responded by supporting Jordan Henderson all the way, even with his slump in form. By doing so, he built the midfield foundations and team culture which led to Liverpool being the well-oiled machine that it is, rather than a collection of individual players. This foundation led to Liverpool, with Jordan Henderson as captain, lifting the Champions League in Madrid last May. Klopp never wavered. Now, Henderson's form and reputation has never been higher.

Jurgen Klopp was able to instinctively sense the need of the moment, and by doing so was able to correctly respond to the situation appropriately, leading to results that were expected of him as a leader.


Connect and collect

As president, Trump must navigate an increasingly uncertain and complex world. Escalating tensions with North Korea and China, dealing with the current pandemic, and navigating relations with the Kremlin are just some of the challenges on the table.

MIT Leadership Center executive director Hal Gregersen said he would characterize Trump as a "top-down" or "command-and-control" leader. He said that such leaders tend to work best in "predictable and certain" atmospheres.

However, they fail significantly where it's unclear what to do or even pay attention to. Their fixation on them being “the best person to decide”, springs from an inherent inability or unwillingness to connect with others and collect knowledge crucial from making the right decisions.

Jurgen Kloop was the opposite. In preparing for games, he insatiably gathers information before condensing it into the essential and most urgent details. Based on reports from inside Anfield, this is regarded as a key skill that helps drive one of his best qualities - the ability to take big decisions quickly, without prevarication, and getting those decisions right. This was attributed to his ability to connect with the right people to acquire the right information needed at the right time.

He worked very closely with both his assistant managers, Peter Krawietz and Pepijn Lijnders who are assistant managers. No hierarchy exists and both serve crucial, differing roles within Klopp's team. Krawietz runs a team of four analysts, focusing on all aspects of previous and forthcoming games - a role so integral it shapes training sessions and team selection.

During a normal week at Melwood, Krawietz will usually present Klopp with 90 minutes of analytical detail which will be whittled down over the course of two meetings to a 25 - 30 minute presentation which the manager will deliver the day before the game.

The very close connection he had with his assistants enable them collectively to collect crucial information about the best strategy to adopt when playing with top notch teams. In 2016, they honed in on the increasing influence of defensive and attacking set-pieces for crucial games against top opposition.

Consequently, in 2017-18, Liverpool scored 13 goals from set-pieces. He was open to ideas and innovative ways of scoring goals. What greater example than Trent Alexander-Arnold's quickly taken corner that caught Barcelona cold in last season's Champions League semi-final second leg at Anfield?

As a leader, Jurgen Klopp connected very well with people that mattered and by doing so collected ideas and knowledge that helped him make the right decisions at the right time as a leader should.

When it comes to identifying what leadership is best in today’s world, we need only to apply the law of inertia that says an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Simply put, progress under a certain leadership style will be forever stymied unless and until we remove the unbalanced force that glorifies leaders that are unwilling to sense and respond appropriately. But to do that such leaders need to reexamine their ability and willingness to connect with people and collect knowledge from them.

If back in 2016, Donald Trump imbued the leadership trait of being able to sense correctly and respond appropriately to situations, having internalized the need to connect with people and collect crucial knowledge from them, the world today would be in a very much different position.

Likewise, if Jurgen Klopp failed to sense the enormity of the challenge that lied ahead of him and respond accordingly, dismissing the need to connect with people that matter, Liverpool would still be hovering in the mid table of the English Premier League.

In today’s rapidly changing world, agile leadership that hinges on responding correctly and responding appropriately is the only way to lead people out of crises. All else is bound to fail.


Dr. Rumesh Kumar

Read 89 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2020 14:08
Dr Rumesh Kumar

Dr Rumesh Kumar is a certified project management professional, a certified professional trainer and performance improvement consultant specializing in the areas of leadership development, continual productivity improvement and enhancement of interpersonal skills.

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