An Apprentice in the China Shop

In my 30 plus years of professional life there are several lessons about management I have learned that continue to pay great dividends.  The first is to never make assumptions.  I have often been surprised by outcomes that I could never have foreseen.  Another is to remember that no matter how bleak the situation may seem, a positive attitude and approach will go a long way.  Not only does remaining positive feel better personally, it also generates confidence in those around you, particularly those who look to you for leadership. Another, more nuanced lesson is that every team member you lose as a leader, for better or worse, is a reflection on your leadership.  Even if a team member departs for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your management, how you handle their departure matters. Unfortunately, the current President of the United States never learned any of these lessons, particularly the last one.  But I guess that makes sense when you’ve built a career on a catch phrase like “You’re Fired!”

But “You’re Fired” isn’t a management strategy.  The fact that this phrase seems to be the only tool at Donald Trump’s disposal is a tragedy for our government or our nation, and also for the world.  Fans of The Apprentice (many of whom I’m sure make up the Trump base) are attracted to the bravado, the swagger and the sweeping, dictatorial behavior that was rewarded in that television show.  It was a program that was built on a 1980’s ethos of winner-take-all that may have appealed to many people’s aspirations of power, wealth and agency.  But real world management requires none of that behavior and in fact, that behavior, which is easily summed up as bullying (thank you, Melania) is a recipe for failure.  Management requires strategic empowerment and proper balance of that power among the people who are most capable of sharing their influence to cultivate effect.  A true “leader” in a management environment is one who can inspire leadership throughout a team and take charge when it is appropriate.  This is the case on sports teams, in corporations, in educational institutions and (in theory) in government.

Unfortunately, the 45th President of the United States is still concerned with ratings and hoping that he might get an Emmy Award for his performance as Chief Executive.    He seems oddly invested in maintaining his brand as the corporate “terminator” by attempting to leverage each staff departure as an opportunity to score media points.  But that is not how management works.  Multiple departures in an organization simply create an environment of insecurity.  If any of the reports from inside this White House are true, insecurity and anxiety are at a premium.  Personally, I question the effectiveness of any administration of government that is simultaneously deciding my taxes, healthcare, justice, global interactions and engagement with warring global factions while washing down a handful of Xanax with a swig of Jack Daniels just to get through the day.

There have been recent comparisons between Trump and Nixon.  But like him or not, Nixon was a savvy 30-year veteran of electoral politics with a track record and world class negotiating and management skills.  Donald Trump, however, is merely a bull in the china shop of national trust.  Although it is certainly no requirement of the President or any executive to be buddy-buddy with their team, there must be a baseline of trust that allows work to get done without the sense that the ceiling might at any time come crashing down.  This sense of trust then permeates out to the people who a business serves, in this case the people of the United States.  Sadly, this president’s “base” is not interested in trust or understanding government; they are interested in good entertainment that makes them feel like they are “winning”.  This is all summed up in the big red daddy of all catch phrases that insists that the United States somehow needs to be made great again.

As we watch the parade of departures from the administration, as we try to wrap our heads around the irresponsible ego driven international policies, as we witness our government become more and more responsible for humanitarian crises instead of alleviating them and as more and more trust is eroded among the people of this country and around the world, I’m convinced that the only real way we can make America great again is by saying to Donald Trump, sooner than later “You’re Fired!”

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