For as long as Donald Trump has been in office – possibly as long as he’s been running for office – he has been dogged by scandal and rumour, and more chaos than Armando Iannucci\’s The Thick of It. Since being inaugurated on January 20th, 2017, he has;
- Fired a set of ambassadors and the acting attorney general, Sally Yates
- Faced the resignation of his national security advisor, Michael Flynn
- Had his actual attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recuse himself from the Russia investigation (who a few days later asked a set of US attorneys to tender their resignations.
- Fired James Comey, his FBI Director
- Had his Communications Director, Mike Dubke, resign
- Had Mike Corello, spokesman for his legal team on the Russia investigation resign
- Had his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer resign
- Fired his second Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci
- Had a host of business leaders resign from national strategy committees
- Scrapped more committees before they even started because of this
If you think that looks like a list of chaos, you’d be right. Despite being lauded as a business leader, I think Donald Trump is quite possibly one of the world’s greatest business school case studies on exactly how not to build and run a team – let alone one of the greatest countries in the West.
Decisive or narcissistic?
Despite my opening to this article, I’m not actually here to moralise on Donald Trump’s politics. I think just about all of us can see the man is slightly unhinged – but his behaviour in this situation is more common than we may like to admit.
Have you ever been in an impossible situation before? One where the writing seems to be on the wall from the word go, everyone is telling you that you’re bound to fail, and just about every mistake you make is pounced upon as an example of your obvious incompetence?
I’ve been in that situation just twice before – once unfairly, and once because of my own lack of insight. Both times, I struggled to prove my opposition incorrect in their assertions that I was slowly sinking, and both times my thinking became more and more erratic as I tried to defend my position. As I generally possess a reasonable level of self-awareness, I could see myself making daft decisions, and would strive to stop myself – but when the next test of my self-control arose, I found myself doing yet another thing which gave fuel to my critics.
My question is this. If it’s obvious to all around you that you’re in way over your head. If your efforts consistently fail to get the results you expect, and you keep coming in for criticism from all quarters, how can you tell when it’s time to step back and give in?
Being confident in your own decisions is an important part of living. If you doubt every decision you make and constantly question yourself, you’ll never be able to anything done. Prevarication, procrastination, a bad case of nerves – whatever you call it, is indecision ever a positive trait?
Of course, blind self-confidence comes by many other names; narcissism, ego, arrogance. If I had a choice between being accused of being indecisive or being called a narcissist, I’d take the former any day. Taking time to think things through and examine your assumptions is an essential part of decision-making. If you’ve worked to get good people around you – trusted advisors, experts and people with varying experiences and educations, you’ll quickly find that they rarely have a unanimous opinion on anything.
The importance of a good team
I’ve written before about the importance of getting good advisors. People that are experts in their field. People that can work to help you out when you’re making decisions, catch issues that you have no experience with, and provide a sounding board for your choices. Donald Trump has got that team – again, leave aside comments about their professionalism and politic views. That team seem to be strongly pointing towards something going wrong with President Trump’s decision- making process.
Having to repeatedly fire staff. Facing repeated resignations. Facing communications crises and national protests. These are all external signs that he’s getting things wrong. Despite this, he seems unwilling (or unable) to change the way he’s tackling problems.
When I faced challenges to my leadership, I had two options. I could either ignore what people were saying and push forward with my own views, or I could listen and try to adapt my approach. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand collaboration. Decisions were extremely quick and easy – either I get a sweet, or I don’t get a sweet – there was no half-way measure. When I got older, I learnt that I could negotiate – maybe I can’t have a sweet, but if I do the pots, can I get a chocolate?
Although I’m confident in my decision-making process, I’m not afraid to change my approach when needed to get the best outcome. I once made a proposal to a manager to try to achieve a set of goals I felt were in the best interests of the company. It was partly motivated by a desire to streamline the way I was working (and to improve the output at my work). My Director at the time told me that although my analysis was sound, and the proposal well-written, he disagreed with the goals I’d laid down.
I’d spent a lot of time working on the proposal, and although I thought the goal was right for the company, I recognised that I wasn’t some infallible decision-making machine. Instead of digging my heels in and fighting him. I asked what he thought we should do instead and then spent time negotiating on the goal before coming to we came to a mutual agreement.
By having a good team, and listening to feedback, you can come to better decisions than if you try to act alone. Donald Trump is gradually becoming more and more isolated – his position becoming more untenable. I suspect that he’ll eventually be ousted from office, but if he was willing to listen, negotiate and work with his team (instead of against them), he might have found his Presidency proceeding in a very different manner.