… he doesn’t pass the minimum requirements in the US Army’s FM 6-22 Leader Development Field Manual

Three things you might not know

  1. Donald Trump would not pass the “five crucial qualities” in the US Army’s basic leadership development manual.
  2. The “time horizon” and the “order of information complexity” inherent in most decisions required at the level of a CEO or the US President are beyond Donald Trump’s innate mental capability.
  3. The CEO of a large corporation requires the mental capability to handle conceptual complexity over a minimum time horizon of twenty-years.

(5 minute read)

A good litmus test for an individual’s leadership mettle is captured in the military metaphor: “I’d go over the hill with him.” Which is a way of saying: I trust he has my back? I trust her to be there when the going gets tough, to stand with me when everything is on the line … to lead in words and deeds.

There have been more books and manuals written about leadership than there have been good leaders to read them, from Washington, Napoleon, Lincoln and Lee to Patton, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Trump. And yet, America allows elected leaders to become Commanders-in-Chief of the military with no test as to their leadership capability. Although there’s a most applicable manual written by the US Army: “Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development.”

This manual was referenced in a recent LA Times op-ed under the title, Is Trump mentally fit to be president? Let’s consult the U.S. Army’s field manual on leadership. It tells us all we need to know. Written by Dr. Prudence L. Gourguechon, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, the editorial distills the “core faculties that officers, including commanders, need in order to fulfill their jobs” into “five crucial qualities.” Here are some highlights from the five qualities, which apply to any leader, from the heads of nations and corporate executives to the mayors of small towns.

  1. Trust: “Leaders shape the ethical climate of their organization while developing the trust and relationships that enable proper leadership.”
  2. Discipline and self-control: “The manual requires that a leader demonstrate control over his behavior and align his behavior with core Army values … an individual has a robust working filter, so that he doesn’t say or do everything that comes to mind.”
  3. Judgement and critical thinking: “These are complex, high-level mental functions … [and] a leader with the capacity for critical thinking “seeks to obtain the most thorough and accurate understanding possible …”
  4. Self-awareness: “When a leader lacks self-awareness, the manual notes, he “unfairly blames subordinates when failures are experienced” and “rejects or lacks interest in feedback.”
  5. Empathy: “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.”

Dr. Gourguechon states that the field manual amounts to a guide for the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, which deals with succession to the Presidency when there is a declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. So an excellent litmus test for Trump, and all Commanders-In-Chief, should be, at the very least, the five qualities cited in the field manual. Anyone, including Republicans, Democrats and Trump supporters – even fifth graders – can do a quick measure of Trump against these five, key qualities, and grade them on a scale of 1-to-10. Read the LA Times op-ed first (the Army manual is instructive but more than 65 pages) and then judge for yourself. Remember this is an objective, tried-and-true, military practice.

As an example, here’s my scoring of Trump. You might think I’m too harsh or bias but based on the capacities required for leadership as set out in the manual and the empirical evidence inherent in his behavior, how can anyone give him higher ratings? Okay, maybe a 1 or 2 if you’re a Trump supporter. Or 4 or 5 if you’re a sycophant or one of his children.

  1. Trust: 0
  2. Discipline and self-control: 0
  3. Judgement and critical thinking: 0
  4. Self-awareness: 0
  5. Empathy: 0

The process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the
mission and improve the organization. (US Army Leadership Manual, 6-22, Glossary-1)

The Army manual is chock-full of good information and a serious approach to the fundamentals of leadership. It should be required study for every Commander-In-Chief, after all, he or she decides when, why and where to send troops into harms way. An excerpt from page 8 is worth noting because it highlights a critical principle in determining leadership potential, which is also set out in the research and work of Dr. Elliott Jaques, who worked with the US Army during his illustrious career (I have referenced Jaques’s work numerous times in previous blogs on leadership: Leadership in the mirror …; If knowledge is king …; Great leaders understand three things …; Does mental capability trump cultural coding?; Ten leadership books most leaders probably haven’t read …; and 70% is a long way from 100% ….

Complexity and time-span measure leadership capability

The Army manual states: “As leaders progress, they will experience greater challenges based on the scope of the situation, the consequences and risks involved, and the time horizon. As the scope increases, the number of people and outside parties involved also increases. The consequences of decisions increase, as do the risks that leaders must address. The length of time that leaders’ decisions apply tend to increase at higher levels as well as the time over which leaders can apply influence.”

The true source of difficulty in any problem lies in its complexity – Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization, Second Edition (1996), p. 64

The premise of “time horizon” and the “length of time that leaders’ decisions apply” has been proven by the research of Jaques to be fundamental in determining a leader’s capability in handling the complexity of situations “at higher levels.” This measure of a leader’s potential capability is directly relevant to the President of the United States and is clearly different than the world of the family business in which Donald Trump spent his life. Nowhere in Trump’s previous business world was the “scope” anywhere near what it is now and certainly “the number of people and outside parties involved” has increased dramatically, beyond anything he ever dealt with in the context of his “art of the deal.”

If we are to apply the “five qualities” that the US Army apply to leadership and the four “Orders of Information Complexity” and the four levels of “Complexity of Mental Processing” that Elliott Jaques’s research established, we can determine the level of complexity that Trump, or any leader – prime ministers, governors, mayors, CEOs – are capable of managing.

Jaques in his book, Social Power and the CEO: Leadership and Trust in a Sustainable Free Enterprise System, cites his work with the US Army Research Institute (ARI), in which they arrived at “extraordinarily consistent evaluations of the current potential capability … in terms of a judgement of the highest level of a role at which the employee [leader] had the potential to work right now.”[1] The conclusion is that time horizon, complexity and mental capability are inextricably linked and Jaques sets this out in his seminal book Requisite Organization.

Is it too much to require a certain minimum level of potential mental capability of a US president? It should be equal, a least, to a CEO of a large corporation with a minimum time horizon of twenty-years. – Elliott Jaques,  Human Capability.

Donald Trump was a CEO (keep in mind that the Trump Organization, a family owned and operated business, is a small organization with limited breadth and depth compared to Apple, Microsoft, GE, IBM, let alone the United States). And now he’s president. But is he qualified?

The question about qualifications is best addressed by reviewing the US Army’s key leadership principles and then carrying out a more in depth study of   Elliott Jaques’s fifty years of work, which provides an invaluable non-political, research-based system of measurement and analysis. These works give a leader – and anyone interested in leadership – a philosophical and principled foundation for understanding, evaluating, measuring and matching potential leadership capability with the level of complexity inherent in each and every role, from supervisors, managers and senior executives to mayors, governors and the President of the United States.

These works and the research that supports them should be “basic training” for all wannabe leaders and any incumbent who aspires to greater personal growth and a higher purpose.


  1. Social Power and the CEO: Leadership and Trust in a Sustainable Free Enterprise System, p. 57, fn-3
  2. Human Capability, by Jaques and Cason, p. 118 (1994)