Op-ed: The White House has a management problem

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, May 17, 2017 9:56am
  • Opinion

Mind you, I’m not anti-management. Some good leaders maintain thriving companies by inspiring a passion for a job well done in an atmosphere of confidence. Collaboration is their organizational approach, where praise co-exists with constructive criticism. The employees operate with a well-defined sense of mission, because it has been clearly communicated from the top every step of the way.

Then there are the bad bosses — far too many of them. These are the ones who believe in a business culture of fear. Sometimes it’s intentional, where the guy at the top gets his ego kicks from desperate subordinates groveling to win favor — or more likely, avoid disfavor and its brutal consequences. Even worse is the unqualified executive, who stifles accomplishment by constant second-guessing. Usually he is trying to avoid facing the reality that he’s in way over his head. So he resorts to capricious bullying. His people have no idea what to do or say.

It’s obvious where this is heading. This is not a discussion about just any leader, but the nation’s leader. President Donald J. Trump is showing himself to be a historic disaster when it comes to running his new company, the federal government. Since the very beginning of his tenure, he has caused one debacle after another, and not just because of his loopiness.

Working closely with Trump is clearly a nightmare. His top aides never know what he is thinking from one second to the next. His only consistency is his practice of pitting one against the other. All live in fear of losing their job. As a result, they willingly embarrass themselves by publicly parroting, on any given controversy, whatever they think their leader wants them to, no matter how ridiculous. Then, Trump changes his mind, for some unknown reason, and suddenly the spokespeople are thrown under a bus. None is immune, not even Vice President Mike Pence, who has stepped out on more than one occasion and recited the talking points only to be contradicted a few minutes later by POTUS his very own self. And then POTUS bitterly complains that his peeps have let him down. Total, unfair second-guessing.

We saw the Trump technique in all its toxic splendor with the firing of James Comey, whose FBI is deep into an investigation over alleged Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government. We’ve all heard the differing stories about various Trump-Comey conversations over dinner and on the phone. What is clear in all of them is that Donald Trump had concluded that Jim Comey was not somebody he could reliably control. That, in the Trumpster’s mind, is an unhealthy precondition if there ever was one, and a fatal one to someone who obsesses about keeping everyone under his thumb. Comey had to go. He was fired.

Now came the hard part: Trump or one of his advisers came up with a plan to get the new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to write a memo, critical of Comey as FBI director.

When the deed was done, and Comey was sacked, the president sent his people out to tell the world it was all Rosenstein’s idea. But Rosenstein realized he’d been had and said so. So what does the current president do after his people had haltingly explained the action, which, by the way, he didn’t tell them about until right before it happened? He completely changed his story in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. Completely changed it.

What we had was a classic failure to communicate a storyline, apparently a bogus one, spread by lackeys desperate to get a crumb of favor and keep their jobs. Trump explained it away by saying it was impossible for them to be accurate because they couldn’t keep up with him. Whatever else we think of President Donald Trump, it’s obvious that an example of what an executive should not be is the nation’s chief executive.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.