The Trump Administration-Part II: Failures in Leadership and Management

Thomas Fox

Yesterday, I considered how the actions of the new administration are creating chaos for US businesses. Today I will consider the Muslim refugee ban and the miss-steps the new administration used in its design, execution and delivery. Matt Kelly, writing in his blog Radical Compliance in a piece entitled “Refugee Ban: A Policy Management Disaster”, listed four leadership failures by the administration in the rollout of the ban, all of which provide some excellent lessons for any business leader who may be trying to initiate change at a company.

The first was listed as “no communication”. While Kelly conceded the President could have sold the request he was making to the American people, he failed to engage in the communication required to sell the ban. Kelly identified it as a failure of leadership because the message from the administration was “dictating orders and expecting others to obey” rather than engaging in dialogue to persuade.

The second Kelly labeled as “flawed implementation” where he stated, “Trump and his team had no plan to implement the refugee ban on a practical basis. Or, in the language of compliance-speak: they ordered a change in procedure without first having a process in place to make it happen.” This left the groups required to implement the ban completely in the dark and with “no time to implement new procedures (call them compensating controls) to handle questions from suddenly visa-less travelers around the world.” For the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, Kelly posed the following questions, “Imagine how the board would react to a CEO who orders a new policy, sharply at odds with institutional history and employee values, without planning for its effective implementation. If you were the compliance or audit leader at that company, counseling the board, what would you recommend they do with the CEO?”

Next is that there was no incorporation of the feedback the administration received. While it is certainly the prerogative of the administration to hold the course after the announcement, to claim as Trump did that “It’s working out very nicely” belies the facts on the ground. If you are not able or willing to take information into your decision making calculus, you miss out on a valuable set of inputs. Kelly’s final point is that this entire exercise was a “wasted opportunity” because a majority of Americans are inclined to support the President. Some other type of action, more Constitutionally focused and better explained would have probably been accepted.

James Stewart wrote about more broad and systemic failures in management in his Common Sense column in the New York Times (NYT). While echoing Kelly points on leadership, Stewart provided additional insight for the CCO, compliance practitioner or business leader in the administration’s failures around its Muslim refugee ban. Lindred Greer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said the mistakes were “so basic, it’s covered in the introduction to the M.B.A. program that all our students take.” Stewart cited to Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford and the author of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, who said “Trump’s executive actions as president “are so far from any responsible management approach” that they all but defy analysis.”

Jeffrey T. Polzer, professor of Human Resource Management at Harvard Business School, said, “The core principles [of leadership] have served many leaders really well. It’s really common sense: You want to surround yourself with talented people who have the most expertise, who bring different perspectives to the issue at hand. Then you foster debate and invite different points of view in order to reach a high-quality solution.” However, to do so, “requires an openness to being challenged, and some self-awareness and even humility to acknowledge that there are areas where other people know more than you do. This doesn’t mean decisions are made by consensus. The person at the top makes the decisions, but based on the facts and expertise necessary to make a good decision.”

Neither the Secretaries of Homeland Security or Defense were consulted in advance about the substance of the ban. Stewart reported, the Secretary of Homeland Security, “John F. Kelly, was still discussing a proposed executive order restricting immigration when Mr. Trump went ahead and signed it. Nor was Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, consulted; he saw the final order only hours before it went into effect.” Greer opined, “Not to consult thoroughly with top cabinet officers before deciding on the order “is insane,” since they “have the expertise and should be on top of the data. Ignoring them leads to bad decisions and is also incredibly demoralizing.”

These failures also came at the expense of another key lesson of business management – buy-in. The more people who are involved in a decision, the more people will support it and work towards its success. Stewart cited to Professor Polzer, “When people are genuinely involved in a decision and their input is heard and valued and respected, they are more likely to support and buy into the decision and be motivated to execute to the best of their abilities, even if the decision doesn’t go their way.” He went on to note, “Conversely, people who aren’t consulted feel they have no stake in a successful outcome.”

Most interestingly, and for the CCO, compliance practitioner or business leader, was the insight Stewart received when he told the persons he interviewed for the article to “ignore their views about the merits of Mr. Trump’s policies.” Their uniform response was that you cannot do so because “execution and substance are inextricably linked.” He quoted to Professor Polzer that “When you’re on the receiving end of a policy decision, the merits of the decision and the execution go hand in hand. If either one is done poorly, the outcomes will be bad. Even good plans that are poorly rolled out aren’t going to work well.”

Finally, Stewart addressed the myth that businesses thrive on chaos, noting “But every expert I consulted said there is no empirical data or research that supports the notion that chaos is a productive management tool.” He once again cited from Professor Polzer, “I don’t really know what’s going on in the White House, so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on that specifically. But I can say in general that in organizational settings, less chaos is a good thing.”

Both Kelly and Stewart ended their pieces that if such chaos was demonstrated by a business leader, that leader would likely change their tune or be shortly shown the corporate door. As a CCO, compliance practitioner or business leader, you should study both leadership and management failures by the administration in its Muslim refugee ban rollout and implementation, so you do not make the same mistakes.

Tomorrow, I will provide some lessons on how a business can prepare for a catastrophe given the chaos in Washington.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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