Monday, September 4, 2017

Managing Donald Trump

Among the most difficult management jobs is managing your boss. In the trade it’s called managing up.

When John Kelly became White House chief of staff I remarked that it would be interesting to see how well he could manage, not so much the White House staff, but the president himself.

The New York Times has what appears to be a well-sourced story about Kelly’s progress. And about Trump’s habit of throwing tantrums at his staff.

The Times report begins:

President Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.

It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.

I emphasize, for your edification, that executives do not behave this way. It is not advanced or novel management technique. It is bad management technique. Executives know that the person you berate in front of other people is not likely to accept that treatment for very long. And is not likely to do a very good job for you. And this applies to the military as well as other forms of government service.

Kelly has set about imposing order on a “demoralized” staff. Perhaps those staff members who have been talking to the Times are doing it because they want Kelly to continue his good work. And they want Trump to let himself be managed.

Kelly has leverage over the president because, as the Times says, Trump needs him more than he needs Trump. The White House staff is demoralized and President Trump’s approval polls are dismal.

The Times reported:

While Mr. Kelly has quickly brought some order to a disorganized and demoralized staff, he is fully aware of the president’s volcanic resentment about being managed, according to a dozen people close to Mr. Trump, and has treaded gingerly through the minefield of Mr. Trump’s psyche. But the president has still bridled at what he perceives as being told what to do.

What is different this time is that Mr. Trump, mired in self-destructive controversies and record-low approval ratings, needs Mr. Kelly more than Mr. Kelly needs him.

Kelly began by organizing the flow of information that the President sees. And he has taken control over access—he decides who does or does not have access to the president. Such characteristics of a well-run organization are apparently new to President Trump:

But in his short time at the White House, Mr. Kelly, a 67-year-old native of Boston, has had the most significant impact of any of the campaign or White House aides who have worked for Mr. Trump, according to interviews with a dozen current and former Trump aides and associates. He has regimented, as no one has ever done before, the flow of paper, people and information inundating an omnivorous and undisciplined Mr. Trump.

The president, for his part, has marveled at the installation of management controls that would have been considered routine in any other White House.

One is delighted that Trump recognizes the value of better management. And yet, if that is true, why is a lifelong business executive just now learning this?

Kelly is smart enough not to suggest that his job is to manage Trump. He says, according to the Times, that he is trying to “rationalize the chaos:”

Mr. Kelly has told his staff, time and time again, that his goal is to rationalize the chaos that has engulfed the management of the West Wing. Managing Mr. Trump is beyond his — or anyone else’s — powers, he has said repeatedly.

We would do better to see Kelly as being unwilling to try to do too much all at once. The difficulties of managing Trump and the Trump White House are such that it will take time to turn the ship around. Kelly has begun where he could exert influence. In time, one trusts, he will be more successful.

One appreciates that many people believe that the Trump administration is setting a new precedent. To be clear, an administration can only achieve its policy goals if it is running smoothly and efficiently, if it is organized. We saw such organization in the response to Hurricane Harvey, due no doubt to the influence of a retired Marine Corps general like John Kelly.

If Trump is really going to change the nation’s direction he will have to show himself to be a competent leader, a leader in control of his brief and of himself. One is happy that we are not dealing with President Hillary, but, if Trump cannot manage to act more presidential, prepare yourself for Pres. Elizabeth Warren. That is,  for a leftist HRC with a brain.


JPL17 said...

"And yet, if that is true [i.e., that Trump recognizes the value of better management], why is a lifelong business executive just now learning this?"

Stuart's question pretty much nails it, and I expect books will be written on this subject for long after Trump leaves the White House. And although I don't pretend to know the answer, I have worked for an extremely successful, brilliant and charismatic CEO who was also extremely impulsive and disorganized, and ran a completely chaotic company.

And I can tell you this: Executives like this can succeed bigly, until they fail bigly. I.e., luck, an extremely favorable business climate and/or other temporary factors combine with the executive's brilliance and charisma to generate brilliant success for as long as those conditions last. But when the luck, business climate or other factors turn cold, business disaster follows.

FYI, I hate saying this, because I very badly want Trump to succeed. So let us all say a prayer for John Kelly.

Leo G said...

I have a feeling that Gen. Kelly understands the old saw about loose lips. So I very much doubt this Times report.

Sam L. said...

The NYT hates, Hates, HATES Mr. Trump, so I go on the presumption that the NYT is not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Ares Olympus said...

I recall reading that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both had volatile tempers, mainly on the high standards sense, and wouldn't hesitate to call things out when they were wrong, and not in diplomatic ways.

It might be in business a CEO can have a bad temper and be moderated by his peers. But I don't think Trump's temper comes from having high standards. It comes from being clueless and failing to get sufficient continual validation, or trying to redirect blame outward for his own ignorance.

I wish Kelly well. So what we've learned is that if Kelly leaves, that means the presidency is beyond hopeless, and all republicans should jump ship before its too late for them.

The only consolation I can get in this "rationalized chaos" is to imagine what Republicans would call a Democrat president who acted like Trump. If they can't handle Benghazi or Slick Willy getting away with everything without losing a 50+ approval rating, how would they handle a rival-party president who's only purpose in life is self-aggrandizement at any cost?

Leo G said...

So Ares, if the President is clueless, what does that make Mrs. Clinton?

Uncle Max said...

UnPresidential President Trump has no path!... no path! to 270! Just keep viewing all of this through the lens that was shown to be completely flawed. Trump is the leader. He is in control. Kelley works FOR HIM and I have NO doubt that Kelley appreciates this dynamic and doesn't "manage up" one iota. Your premise is off... but I love reading you anyway. Heh.

Ares Olympus said...

Anonymous Leo G said... So Ares, if the President is clueless, what does that make Mrs. Clinton?

She is very fortunate to not have to deal with fools any more.

Uncle Max said... Kelley works FOR HIM

Try "Kelly" and you might be right.

I see the Weekly Standard is humbly projecting Trump as the next Bill Clinton with Bill Clinton's greatest sin was being a Democrat who acted like a Republican, so perhaps Trump will suddenly discover some populist positions republicans are unable to talk about.
It comes down to this: A majority of Americans are unhappy with their government and happy with the economy and their jobs. Trump is gambling that come the congressional elections next year, Americans will vote their wallets, that “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Universal health care? Certainly government controlled health care is simpler, death panels and all. Donald Trump: Replace Obamacare with Universal Health Care
Trump: There's many different ways, by the way. Everybody's got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, "No, no, the lower 25 percent that can't afford private. But--"

Pelley: Universal health care.

Trump: I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now.

Pelley: The uninsured person is going to be taken care of. How? How?

Trump: They're going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably—

Pelley: Make a deal? Who pays for it?

Trump: —the government's gonna pay for it. But we're going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it's going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.