Clinton vs. Trump: Two Alternative Approaches to People Management

From FBI investigations to opinion polls and some unfortunate word choices, American Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are filling the column inches and keeping the world’s media on its toes. One article caught my attention last month and sparked more than a little curiosity about how they each run their campaigns. I’m not talking about the merchandise-laden tour buses and charged debates, but the experts, aids, and volunteers bustling about behind the scenes.

In 2012, Ann Marie Habershaw – the COO behind Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign –  revealed that hiring practices among staffers were, at best, ad hoc. She was responding to a Tweet from Nathaniel Koloc, then CEO of recruitment firm Rework. She told him that department heads often make hiring decisions on the fly, and campaigns are inevitably run by friends of friends and talent sourced through word-of-mouth.

As though to prove her point, three years later, Habershaw mentioned Koloc to Clinton’s deputy COO, who called to offer him the position of Director of Talent Acquisition and Development on the Hillary for America campaign. That makes Clinton’s outfit the first major political campaign to have a role dedicated to people management and talent sourcing¹. An interesting move, don’t you think?

Which got me thinking, what can we learn about people management from these two very different candidates?


25 seconds in, learning from criticism. 3.29, expressing her opinion and identifying problems without micromanaging the solution. 5 mins in, importance of compromise for progress.

Team and Hiring Style

The first female nominee is known for her close inner-circle. Many of the major players on her staff have been with her since she was First Lady, and she has retained a number of employees from her time at the State Department – not to mention some notable names from both husband Bill’s and President Obama’s campaigns².

This tried and tested team have proven they can handle anything a Presidential election might throw at them, but Hillary has also future-proofed her staff. Her established team is joined by new hires with more contemporary skill sets, like Marlon Marshall, who is known for his alternative approach and willingness to operate contrary to established Washington precedent². Interestingly, it’s an attitude mirrored by campaign manager Robby Mook, who worked with Clinton on her 2008 campaign.


The thousands of work emails now available to the public reveal a lot about Clinton’s character and how it translates to her management style.

Performance-oriented Clinton is happy to circumvent time consuming, official procedures when she judges them irrelevant. For example, when waiting to receive a statement which lacked any sensitive information but had been classified top secret, she instructed the sender to simply email it directly (and against protocol), ensuring the document was available there and then without delay.³

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”4

Source: Huffington Post

Management Style

There may be no better way to define Clinton’s management style than with her own phrase, ‘smart power’. It encapsulates the need to learn and adapt to new situations in pursuit of the best possible outcome⁵. A practice reflected in her team, who embody a mixture of experienced and unconventional thinking.

Throughout her public career, Clinton has championed training and skills development.

In a primary debate in 2007, she advised against contracting out government jobs, an expansion of her 2006 idea to form a ‘public service academy’. Much like a military academy, this theoretical institute would train civil servants for free in exchange for a set number of years work. It’s a management approach that offers benefits at both an individual and organisational level, the organisation in this case being the USA⁶.

Defining Principles

  • Compromising
  • Manages to strengths
  • Performance orientated


On being detail orientated (1 min 32 in), 2.50 attitude to employee performance.

Team and Hiring Style

The Republican nominee launched his bid for The Oval with a very small team. Including long-time advisors Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski, his initial staff had little political experience and were later joined by communications and foreign policy teams that, again, consisted of strategists and consultants with little or no experience in the political arena⁷. Trump opted for those he knew and trusted from his years in industry rather than new faces or unknown experts.

However, as the election gained momentum, Trump’s hiring policy changed in response to the developing needs of the campaign. Established political consultant Paul Manafort came on board, bringing with him over 30 years experience in presidential politics. At the same time, those in Trump’s team with political backgrounds were promoted, and the campaign strategy took on a more traditional approach, with Manafort introducing teleprompters and speechwriters⁷.


Intuitively driven, Trump is not a manager bound to the status quo. He is known to base his hiring decisions on gut reactions, and places greater emphasis on potential than experience.⁸ It’s a focus reflected in his initial campaign team, picked for their skills rather than their experience in the political world.

“Management is an art that is very important to me. Having leadership skills and employees that love their work is one of the great joys of life.”

Source: Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.

Management Style

As a manager, Trump has high expectations. He leads by example, working around the clock and expecting his employees to do the same⁸. He also cultivates a competitive environment, actively encouraging rivalries even amongst high-level employees like Manafort and Lewandowski⁹ (those of you looking for another approach to aligning employees with organisational outcomes might want to check out my recent article, Aligning People: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge).

Trump has a well-founded belief in his abilities, appears very resilient to criticism, and is confident that his approach is the best.ⁱ⁰ He doesn’t delegate big decisions and takes personal responsibility for the outcome of projects in all fields⁹. It’s an exhausting style of management, and not one many could successfully emulate, but it is fantastic for achieving huge successes and is the reason he can deliver on projects that would be unattainable to other managers.

The best example of this is his campaign, which has taken him from a candidate with no elected experience –– not even running experience – to a nominee; a victory that has only been achieved by a handful of men, most notably Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft¹¹. In the light of this success, his claim that he is a quick learner¹² seems well founded; and clearly he expects the same from those around him. When the campaign hit a snag in March, it was Lewandowski who hired Manafort and his company of politically savvy aids to put it back on track¹³, demonstrating a penchant for agile learning in Team Trump, with senior staff continually assessing performance, identifying missteps, and adjusting their strategy in response.

Defining Principles

  • Intuitive
  • Hierarchical
  • Performance orientated

To sum up…

Trump’s experience in industry and Clinton’s decades in Washington have created two very different managers with two very different approaches, but they both have two values in common: performance and agile learning. Only time will tell which management style is the best suited to the political arena but I, for one, cannot wait to see the outcome.

What are your thoughts on these two approaches? How would they translate to your organisation?


¹Krueger, 2016. How the Hillary Clinton campaign built a staff as diverse as America. Fast Company.
² Anon. 2016. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016.Ballotpedia.
³ Klapper and Lee, 2016.What we learned from 52,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails. PBS.
⁴ Sanghoe, 2015. 5 important leadership lessons from Hillary Clinton. Huffington Post.
⁵ Shambaugh, 2010. Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton. Forbes.
⁶Katz, 2015. What a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean for the federal workforce. Government Executive.
⁷ Anon. 2016. Donald Trump presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016. Ballotpedia.
⁸Kruse, 2016. The executive Mr Trump. Politico Magazine.
⁹Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.
ⁱ⁰Gaskell, 2016. 4 Leadership lessons from Trump. Forbes.
¹¹Raunch, 2015. Amateurs in the Oval Office. The Atlantic.
¹²Dickerson, 2016. How fast does Donald Trump learn? CBS News.
¹³Moussa and Newberry, 2016. What we can learn from Donald Trump’s campaign reboot. London School of Economics (US Centre).

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