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About that handshake...

The uncomfortable and bizarre world of Donald Trump's greeting
Trudeau-Trump handshake
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) is greeted by U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., Feb. 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Todd Humber

I’ve never seen a handshake diagnosed the way the Trump-Trudeau grip has been. Frame-by-frame analysis, endless commentary and general kudos delivered the Canadian prime minister’s way for countering Trump’s bizarre greeting.

We watched HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver yesterday, and though he didn’t comment on the Trudeau event he did run a montage of Trump’s aggressive handshake. It’s one of the stranger things I’ve seen in life.

A post on Jezebel described it this way — it “involves him yanking the other person’s arm and shaking it for several beats longer than expected.”

Saying “several beats” may be understanding it a tad — Trumps handshake last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lasted 19 seconds. That’s uncomfortably long by any measure.

The clips from John Oliver’s show made it clear it can also be quite violent — in some cases he literally pulls the other person off balance. No doubt it is a calculated power move on Trump’s part, a very old school way of saying “I’m the alpha dog.”

I know I wouldn’t like that greeting, I doubt you would — and I’m sure Trump would hate it if the tables were turned.

We spend a lot of time in the pages of Canadian HR Reporter discussing and debating what makes a good leader. Empathy often comes up as the number one trait, but other stalwarts like holding people accountable for their actions and trust also make regular appearances.

Domination never enters the discussion. It is simply not a leadership trait. If anything, it’s a sign of weakness. The only message it sends is “I think I’m better than you, I think I’m stronger than you, and I’m going to beat you down.”

Maybe this kind of bravado played well in the 1970s and 1980s, I don’t know. But it seems so uncomfortably out of place in 2017 — we simply know better and can see past this garbage.

So kudos to Trudeau. Not for his political leaning, but for his simple raising of his left hand to brace himself against Trump’s alpha move. We will continue to debate the merits of what makes a great leader, but aggressive physical power moves aren’t in the textbooks any more.


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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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