After being in office for nearly 8 months, it appears that Trump’s self-crafted image of a great businessman may be closer to fake news than reality. Rather than repeat what others have said, I prefer to approach this subject from a management fundamentals point of view. Those that have studied management know that a manager performs four primary functions – planning, organizing, executing/leading, and controlling.
Planning involves two major components – setting measurable goals and crafting strategies to achieve them.
Goals. One might argue that the Trump Administration has articulated goals such as limiting immigration and building a wall, creating jobs and preventing businesses from moving manufacturing operations offshore, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, and Tax reform. Within days of the inauguration, rather than start with the above goals, the Trump Administration secretly focused on lifting the sanctions on Russia. According to Business Insider...
The Trump administration reportedly looked into lifting US sanctions on Russia just days after the president's inauguration, and one former official at the State Department said that if those efforts were successful, it would have given the Russians "exactly what they wanted in exchange for absolutely nothing."
Strategies. When it comes to devising strategies to achieve them, many believe that the Trump Administration uses a “fly by the seat of your pants” strategy. Even long-time Trump supporters, such as Newt Gingrich, say that Trump either does not have the right strategy or has no strategy at all. With regard to North Korea, some believe his strategy is out of Putin’s playbook – creating international crises to divert attention from his domestic problems, such as the Mueller investigation.
After you have a good plan, you organize to execute the plan. Organization is critical to success. If you look at the inner circle at the Trump White House it has been a revolving door. That’s not the most-effective way to build a successful organization. The way you do it is you hire people with the best skills you can find to do the job, and you let them do the job as they see fit. That does not seem to happen at the Trump White House. There is serious micromanagement and nepotism – with family members having outsized influence. Rather than give the people you hire the authority to make decisions, Trump does not delegate authority. He only delegates responsibility. He takes credit for things that work and assigns blame for things that don’t. Good managers know that authority and responsibility must go together – either the executive keeps both or delegates both. In the Trump White House, subordinates have been frustrated because the President seems to prefer those that (1) do what he says without question and (2) heap praise upon him twice a day. Moreover, it is hard to build the right organization when so many top jobs are unfilled after eight months.
Executing and Leading
When it comes to executing the strategies that achieve goals, it is hard to do when strategies are unclear or non-existent. In any case, if you look at the stated agenda in the first eight months, not much has been accomplished. That is not any great surprise to those that know you need the right goals, strategies and organization to achieve success in running a complex organization, such as the US Government. With serious holes in all of these areas, it is no wonder that things are not working according to plan. In fact, the only apparent plan is to keep his job and get re-elected.
Most important of all, good leaders do not blame others for failure and take credit for every success. Rather than assume responsibility for anything, the Trump Administration has spent the past eight months blaming a long list of groups and individuals for disappointing results:
- Anyone with oversight – the intelligence community, judges, and the news media;
- Former US Presidents and opponents – Obama, Bush, Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and his Republican rivals;
- High-profile Targets – Comey, Sessions, McConnell, McCain;
- Congress – Democrats and Republicans;
- Catchall group – Anyone that does not (1) agree with him, (2) think he’s great, or (3) praise him.
While supporters may think that leading is talking tough to the dictator of North Korea or saying your fired on a scripted reality show, true leaders set good examples and show how to make tough decisions in difficult situations when good options are limited.
Effective managers know that devising plans, building organizations, and providing leadership are critical but insufficient for success. There is one additional piece to the management puzzle – controlling to insure that everything is on track as the organization executes the proper strategies on its way to achieving the measurable goals of the plan. To do that, you have to implement effective systems that collect the right information, interpret it properly, and report it to decision makers so they can take appropriate actions. After taking action, they assess whether it worked. If it didn’t, they take follow-up corrective action. This is a continuous process that aims to make incremental improvements to help insure goals are met.
If the Trump Administration has such a system, it is not collecting accurate information. One notable example is the claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump’s phones during the election. Another is the claim that Donald Trump Jr. met with Russians to talk about adoptions. Both have proven to be false – damaging the credibility of the Trump Administration.
Many objective experts that have witnessed the progress, or lack thereof, over the past eight months believe the White House is out of control. Even so, those with self-interested agendas continue to put positive spins on everything. Those that know better know that you cannot achieve important goals, such as improving healthcare and education, rebuilding infrastructure, improving security and combatting terrorism with positive spins. You need bona fide plans, organizations, competent executions and leadership, and the right controls in place.
The bottom line
In light of the management fundamentals discussed above, it appears that Trump’s management skills, or lack thereof, have hampered the effectiveness of his presidency so far. Experts tend to agree.
An article in Newsweek reported...
“Trump says his business career shows that he’s well-qualified to be president, but he’d be far richer today if he’d just sat on the money his extremely wealthy father gave him.”
In the New York Times, Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, is quoted as saying,
“No good business makes decisions that are based on falsehoods. My sense is that Trump takes no one’s counsel but his own. That’s bad management, period.”
Time will tell if Trump is smarter than the rest of us or if he is the latest incarnation of the Wizard of Oz. Where’s Dorothy and Toto when you need them?