True story example

One of the underlying themes of the Ukraine issue is the undercutting of diplomats doing a job without bothering to tell them what is going on without their knowledge. Setting aside the abuse of power and possible criminal activities, what the president did is just a poor leadership practice. A true example that happened to me might help illustrate this point.

I was client manager on a client relationship with a dear long term client. The client was looking to outsource some major internal work, which my company only did a small part. My client was asking me to help them source other providers, so I started to pull together a team to do so.

Without telling me, my company agreed to partner with a larger company to offer a proposal for the outsourcing. After pulling together a team, I was apprised at the last minute we were actually bidding on the project I was going to help source. Really? So, I apprised my client of the conflict of interest and we suggested he consider a competitor for the sourcing work.

None of this had to happen. My company could have told me up front what was going down without me being embarassed. Plus, it embarassed our bidding partner as they got wind of my sourcing efforts. And, it embarassed my main contact.

This came down from the top. In my or any business, you don’t leave your people hanging. You arm them with information and tools to do the job. You want people to have your back, not go around you snd not tell you they are so doing.

This is what was done by the US president to his diplomats in the field dealing with Ukraine. They were playing a hand they were dealt, but were not informed Rudy Guiliani was playing at another card table.

I have said before, not standing up for your people is poor leadership. So, is not informing them of what is happening. But, it does not just affect us. Ukraine and others wonder “who speaks for America?” Who does?

Stating obvious truths

I feel like I am walking around in a constant state of disbelief. How can people rationalize certain behaviors as acceptable when they are obviously abhorrent, petty, childish, unethical, illicit, etc.? So, let me state some obvious truths.

It is not OK to shrug off as “well-intentioned” the fact staff members tried to protect the President’s fragile ego and hide the name of an air craft carrer honoring three American heroes named John McCain. This is petty and childish.

It is not OK that a Republican operative known for his gerrymandering skills left a smoking gun reference to adding the citizenship question on the 2020 census to enable more gerrymandering to help the GOP. Folks, this is cheating. Both sides have done it, but the GOP through ALEC is cheating in an organized manner.

In the UK, Boris Johnson may be on trial for actively lying about the financial impact of Brexit. He also is a candidate to be the next Prime Minister. In Texas, they would define someone who was long on talk and short on substance as “All hat and no cattle.” That would define Boris’ modus operandi quite well.

Now that Robert Mueller reiterated what is in his report, he directly and subtlely contradicted the President and his Attorney General. It could simply be said that “there is something there there.”┬áThe President’s staff and sycophants are doing there best to say “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain,” but do pay attention to him. And, ask your Senators some why quesfions.

Between going against his staff to belittle Japan’s legitimate fears over North Korea to making yet another surprise announcement to impose tariffs on Mexico if they do not do even more to halt migrants entering the US, here are two more painful examples that the President is a loose cannon. The military has a term for short-sighted and poorly planned (and communicated) decision-making that puts people in harm’s way – they calk it a clusterf**k. That aptly defines the President’s modus operandi.

People can rationalize away, but the above is pretty obvious to me. And, these examples are not anomalies, The horribly conceived, unplanned and poorly conceived travel ban that was pulled in two days is similar to the Mexico tariff announcement. It reveals the President still has not learned from his mistakes.

A lesson that continues to evade someone

A certain man in a global leadership position continues to avoid learning an important lesson. Not only does it hurt his efforts, but it is harmful to this country’s relationships around the globe and within its leadership ranks. The lesson is his failure to vet decisions and communications of such with key people before a broader announcement.

Yesterday, this man decided to walk away from a summit with North Korea without giving advance notice to a key ally in South Korea. As a result, the US relationship with South Korea is strained. Now, he may be whipsawing them again as he has done all week saying the summit may still be on.

But, this is not the first time he has done this. After pleas from our European allies, he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. ┬áThe echoes of that change continue to strain relationships with our allies to the point an EU leader said “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

His first major change was so horribly vetted and communicated, it was pulled after two days. He failed to discuss with Congressional leaders in his own party that he was instituting a travel ban. He also failed to gain input and buy-in from affected agencies who had to implement the change. It was as he likes to say a “disaster,” but this one was on his shoulders. Soldiers often refer to poor decisions like this with a word beginning with “cluster.”

But, there are many more examples. What may turn out to be his Waterloo is he fired James Comey without telling him. Comey found out from a TV news report. Further, he failed to give advance warning to his communication team, leaving them to make plans in the White House bushes while the reporters waited. That may be the best metaphor for his Presidency.

Yet, for a man who used to have a faux-reality show where he fired people, he has a hard time doing this face to face. He fired Rex Tillerson without telling him. He had Andrew McCabe fired as he cleaned out his desk to retire, an especially vindictive move. Not telling people they are fired beforehand is extremely poor management. And, for someone who likes to talk tough, it reveals those words are part of a false bravado.

His followers like to say what a great businessman he is, but while he is accused of being a great merchandiser, he is rarely accused of being a good manager. Managing a multi-organization business or government is complicated. It requires diligence, input, time, communication, planning and a dose of compassion. For someone who makes decisions on the fly and bullies people, he is at odds with the tools for successful implementations or relationships.

But, as the man once said. “I, alone, can solve this.” With all due respect, no you cannot, but you sure can screw it up.

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.