Wednesday wanderings in mid-July

Since my mind is wandering on this mid-week, mid-month day, let me offer a few thoughts for consumption and reaction.

– when I was involved with mergers between organizations, the mantra had to be focus on doing your job, not keeping your job; it became obvious when folks did the latter;

– political leaders tend to ignore this rule; retired Senators and Congresspeople said about 35% to 40% of their time is fundraising, leaving only the remainder to do the people’s work;

– the US president is even worse and expects his staff to do the same; rather than try to solve problems, he spends too much time blaming others for his failures and taking credit for things he had little to do with;

– defenders of the president say he is not a racist; well if that is the case he needs to stop doing, saying and tweeting racist things; there is a reason 67% of Americans disapprove of his handling of the racial injustice issues – to be brutally frank, it surprises me it is that low; and

– finally, ordering people to reopen schools or be punished follows the president’s instigation to reopen businesses without caution is unwise; the COVID-19 uptick is not a surprise; governors are explaining how could they have known, but my question is how could they not have known the risk? Pandemics do not care about one’s politics.

Let me know what you think about these wanderings. Feel free to share yours.

From the mouth of Steve Schmidt, Republican presidential campaign manager

This is courtesy of a CNN article called “This is the most succinct — and brutal — Republican rejection of Donald Trump that you will ever read,” which transcribes Steve Schmidt’s comments. Schmidt is a lifelong Republican, who was the campaign manager for John McCain in 2008 and Lamar Alexander in 2000. He is one of the founding members of The Lincoln Project, which is organized to help defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“Donald Trump has been the worst president this country has ever had. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. He is. But he is a consequential president. And he has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.

“When you listen to the President, these are the musings of an imbecile. An idiot. And I don’t use those words to name call. I use them because they are the precise words of the English language to describe his behavior. His comportment. His actions. We’ve never seen a level of incompetence, a level of ineptitude so staggering on a daily basis by anybody in the history of the country whose ever been charged with substantial responsibilities.

“It’s just astonishing that this man is president of the United States. The man, the con man, from New York City. Many bankruptcies, failed businesses, a reality show, that branded him as something that he never was. A successful businessman. Well, he’s the President of the United States now, and the man who said he would make the country great again. And he’s brought death, suffering, and economic collapse on truly an epic scale. And let’s be clear. This isn’t happening in every country around the world. This place. Our place. Our home. Our country. The United States. We are the epicenter. We are the place where you’re the most likely to die from this disease. We’re the ones with the most shattered economy. And we are because of the fool that sits in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.”

There is nothing to add or refute. Your comments are welcome.

The greatest coronavirus risk is in the White House

Per Reuters “Breakingviews – Donald Trump is rising risk factor in virus battle” this morning before the additional precipitous stock market decline “Donald Trump is becoming a growing risk factor in the virus battle. The U.S. president’s address to the nation on Wednesday night sparked more market panic. A $50 billion pledge for small businesses hit by Covid-19 is good, but his speech lacked public-health remedies, was full of mixed messages and focused on a Europe travel ban. He’s missing both diagnosis and cure. Trump’s primetime speech followed his administration’s trend of inadequate and confusing responses since coronavirus cases started rising in the United States.” A link to the full editorial is below.

The Washington Post echoed these remarks in an opinion piece called “Trumps oval office failure.” A link to the editorial is also below.

About three years ago, after the absolutely disastrous travel ban that was implemented without vetting, advance communication or planning was pulled after two days, conservative pundit David Brooks gave us a clarion call. He said the Trump White House is “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Sadly, per the book by Michael Lewis called “The Fifth Risk,” the White House started out that way by firing the entire transition team, trashing their research of candidates, leaving positions unfilled, not attending scheduled briefings of how the many government departments work.

Even after filling many jobs, this White House has the highest turnover rate of any of the previous ones, the boss is walking powder keg who people try to keep from blowing up and who has a disdain for study and, as a result, push back on poor decisions is not occurring as it was when a few capable people were there. Plus, there is no consistent planning or communication messaging. To say it is willy-nilly, would not be an overstatement.

So, along comes a real crisis. Not one that is on a distant shore, but one that is here. We need a leader who is calming and we know will shoot straight with us. The president does neither in calmer times, so it is not a surprise he is not so doing in a crisis. I have shared with our Senators for many months the president is a national security risk and a threat to our democracy, our country and our planet. I wish I was off base in my feelings, which are not my own.

If we want stabilization and planning, the best the president can do is let some one else handle it. He needs to step back and let someone who is first and foremost trying to solve the problem, solve it and be the face to America. What I see is a president whose first mission is protecting his own brand, then second helping people. That cannot be the priorities of the US president.

One of my wife’s friends, who is a huge Trump supporter, made the comment to her “at least we have the right person in the White House.” That statement could not be further from the truth.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-breakingviews-idUSKBN20Z0GR
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/opinions-trumps-oval-office-failure/ar-BB115UhK?ocid=spartandhp

Confusion has its cost

My wife and I were listening to a favorite CD on a day trip by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called “So far.” It is the first album recorded after Neil Young joined the band. One of the songs is called “Helplessly Hoping.”

The song title is an excellent metaphor for what many feel about the tenure of the US president. A key line of the song echoes a concern that I have – “Confusion has its cost.”

Going into this administration, I expected a heavy dose of untruthfulness, bullying and name calling from the president. I expected concerns over policy decisions he might make, pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, being an example. Sadly, I have not been surprised on these fronts.

What has surprised me is the level of chaos and incompetence present in the White House. And, I am not alone in this assessment. Conservative pundit David Brooks uses the term “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Together, they cause confusion.

There is confusion around inconsistent messaging, unstable decision-making, overshadowing or derailing emissaries, being swayed by biased or misinformed sources, and a disdain for study or receptivity to input counter the president’s set notions.

This confusion has a cost. Other leaders have lamented they do not know who speaks for America. Republican leaders feel the same, but can only grumble under their breath. Perhaps, the best metaphor for the Trump presidency is his communication people hiding in the bushes to discuss what to say about Jim Comey being fired. Not only did the regal-minded Trump not tell Comey he was fired, he failed to tell his communication staff.

Ron Christie, a former Bush communication official noted that well run White Houses have monthly, weekly and daily talking points. I think one reason the daily press briefings went away, is the lack of such.

Confusion has its cost. Our reputation, our word, our commitment, our governance require clarity. Another measuring rod is White House turnover, which is much higher than previous administrations.

Media please focus on the big issues

With a man occupying the White House who has hard time with truth, civility, history and criticism, there is a bounty of things the media could focus on. And, that is part of the problem. I look at various news feeds and sources and see too many pedestrian foibles that get discussed. Yet, the countless criticisms dull our focus on the more important issues.

My concerns are several, so let me highlight those areas:

– we are borrowing from our future to make a long performing economy a little better, doing the opposite of what is needed to limit our debt from increasing from $21 to $33 trillion by 2027.
– we have ignored our allies and reasonable voices in the US to pull out of various multiparty agreements hurting trade, environment and security.
– we have pulled back several regulations making it easier for industries to pollute and ignoring the federal government’s role in fighting climate change.
– we have blamed immigration for a host of problems and focus on remedies that won’t help people or solve problems.
– we have held up the constitution as sacrosanct, while ignoring the sections on protecting the rights of all citizens, protecting the right and importance of the media and ignoring the clearly defined roles of the three branches of government. It is of vital importance to respect the judiciary’s pursuit of truth, even if the President does not like it.
– we have continued down a path which ignores truths and facts tolerating a man who makes more than a few decisions off misinformation and even disinformation. Governing well is hard enough when we use real facts, it is nigh impossible when we make things up.

Of course, there are other issues, but I attempted to group several concerns into larger categories. In closing, please remember these three cautions – we cannot shrink to greatness, we cannot continue to pee in our global swimming pool, and we must respect the rights and opinions of all people, not just people who agree with you or compliment you.

Execution matters

Very early in the Trump presidency, he signed an executive order to institute a travel ban. It was so poorly conceived, vetted, communicated and staged, its disastrous rollout was canceled in a couple of days. A key example was he failed to tell (or involve) the people who would execute the decision what they needed to do. He also did not advise beforehand the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader who found out when we did.

Earlier this week and over fifteen months later, the President decided to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Whether people agree with this decision, the State department had a very difficult time answering questions the next day as to what this all meant. The did not know answers to questions on the impact on business transactions underway, business transactions that had multiple parties from various countries, business transactions where US suppliers provided parts to French companies working with Iran, etc.

One reporter noted it was shocking how little the State department people knew on what needed to be done and the answers to many questions. They were not briefed. Apparently, the lessons of the first travel ban and other poorly rolled out decisions have not been learned. This is what vetting, planning and communication tries to avoid. Just because a regal person says to do something does not mean it can easily happen. Execution matters. Time matters.

As a former consultant and business manager, I can assure you execution is as important as good ideas. This is a key reason companies spend time and money in project management training. With that said, it is not uncommon to see execution challenges. I recall one prospective client telling me a new software was going to go live a certain date. I asked what alternatives they had considered if certain things did not happen as planned. His answer was of course they would happen on time. It is rare that things go as planned and this was no exception as the start date was delayed.

Yet, what we are seeing from the White House should not be a surprise, as one only needs to look at the business history of the leader. While the confident President would never admit this, what financial reporters and biographers have known for years is Trump is a terrific merchandiser, but they would not confuse him with being a good manager. Managing by chaos and loyalty are not conducive to the very necessary boring competence. Even vetting candidates for jobs is essential and is not a competency for which this White House is known.

Execution matters. Vetting, planning, communication, and time are essential. Without doing these things, too many people are caught off guard. A visual metaphor is White House communication staff hiding in trees from the press after they just found out Comey was fired. Not only did Comey find out after the media did, but so did the Communication staff. Without execution, you have chaos and confusion.

Respect our Flag and Country

Note to the Man in the White House. Please respect our flag and country. The national anthem and flag represent far more than a song and a banner. We need you to do the following:

– start telling the truth, at the very least more often than you do not;

– start acting like a leader and not bullying people, picking fights with citizens or allies, and denigrating the efforts of your staff – your Secretary of State should not be belittled for being diplomatic with North Korea, e.g.

– start calling out groups of people who demean the civil rights of others – follow the lead of the head of the Air Force Academy whose admonition of those who treated people unfairly went viral saying if you can’t treat people of all races and ethnic groups with respect, then get out;

– start doing more homework and seek input from those who know the subject matter – I understand your craving for loyalty, but complex issues need competence;

– start acknowledging when criticism has merit and stop attacking the critic – given how much you misrepresent issues and possible solutions. criticism may be warranted; and

– start acting like a leader we expect in the President.

If you continue to act like a man-child who cannot treat people with dignity and respect, then using the words of the Air Force Academy leader, get out. We have real problems and do not need you making them worse with your behavior and lack of due diligence.