President Trump and Kim Jong-un's meeting could be the start of a peaceful coalition or a contest of egos


As the political showdown of the twenty-first century quickly comes into view, I find myself asking what mode will these two leaders be in – contest or coalition?

If anything, last month’s successful Korean summit only makes the outcome of President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un all the more significant.

Is this the beginning of a smart coalition, or just two narcissists feigning collaboration in an attempt to score points off one another?

This question faces big business, too. Why? Because businesses could get away with silo thinking in the old economy in a way that they no longer can. With coalitions of leaders now required to make big transformations happen – and at pace – there is no longer space for individual heroes to take centre stage.

But is enough effort going into making this happen?

Fostering a shared agenda will enable leaders to execute at pace. While beliefs may differ, without establishing common ground there is nothing to coalesce around.

This ability to build deep and productive relationships is fundamental to any effective union. Without this, it becomes an ideological tug of war, where decisions are made only when one party accepts that contending with the other is futile.

Beyond a shared agenda and deep relationships, one other ingredient is key: just enough ego. While it often gets a bad rep – particularly when it comes to leaders throwing their weight around – the truth is that it’s a critical quality for any leader.

Balancing these three components, however, is no mean feat. So how do Trump and Kim match up?

In terms of shared interest, they have far more in common than you might first think.

Fundamentally, they both crave absolute reverence and admiration. Achieving a lasting peace may in fact be their best option in achieving this from a sceptical global audience.

In business, however, this is far more complex. There are so many factors at play: the reward system, conflicting personal motivations, and the challenge of attaining deep commitment towards a future direction.

What we have seen though is that if the direction is designed to integrate purpose, strategy, and behaviours, and they get the space to debate it – anything is possible.

Deep relationships? The jury is still out on this one. It’s impossible to predict what could happen when these two political juggernauts collide.

In business, people are often too simplistic in their assessment of what this means, reducing the subject down to time spent together. The truth is – while beneficial – getting along on a personal level is not really that relevant in a business context.

Instead, what leaders should do is work actively to strengthen working relationships with their peers – making it a subject of conversation, and being upfront about what topics of conversation are difficult, and why.

Trump and Kim do less well when we look at ego. Two leaders, known for an unwavering self-confidence in their own decision-making are unlikely to take the time to step back, assess the risks, and recalibrate. Decisions are made – and that’s final.

While in any business you need a healthy level of confidence to make things happen, ego is only powerful if coupled with the propensity for self-awareness and just enough analysis. Too much and the moment passes, too little and decisions often go awry.

Ultimately, no one really knows what will happen when Trump and Kim finally meet.

But as leaders in big businesses, what we do know is that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Coalition will always trump conflict.