Lessons for All the President’s Men
President Donald J. Trump exhibits all of the traits commonly found in startup founders. Following instincts that previously led him to success in a new role as our nation’s leader will chaff for awhile, and they will result in growth in this individual who holds the highest office in our land.
The same is true for his close associates and for his enemies.
Several books, movies and television documentaries have attempted to conduct post-mortem examinations of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and, most recently, Ray Kroc, the “founder” of McDonalds. Read, watch and listen closely to the complaints in common, then consider Donald Trump.
- Tolerated no fools or interference in accomplishing their vision
- Fired or demoted incompetents, obstructionists and those who sought to explain the founder’s shortcomings to others
- Stuck their course against overwhelming odds and obstacles, not once or twice, but repeatedly
- Regularly achieved breakthroughs and greatness
- Suffered by being ostracized, ridiculed and criticized, even fired.
We observe the president following a similar set pattern. He makes a controversial statement he believes to be true or takes a surprising action he alone controls. Public, political and media outcry ensues. Others apologize or explain his motivation, only to be undercut by Trump’s own explanation that follows at a lag. Disgruntled underlings left hanging in the wind rightly feel they were unfairly sacrificed. If they make their gripe public, they are demoted or fired. Cycle repeats.
It’s much like a theory that is a favorite of statisticians, mathematicians and probability experts: the random walk. Trump throws down the gauntlet, watches the braying and flailing, and then course corrects or doubles down. Each cycle becomes shorter, more certain as he gains experience. Marksmen are taught a similar skill: fire, see where round hits, adjust aim, fire again, repeat.
If Trump can survive the trials, he will eventually stick the landings, repeatedly. God help those who get in his way in the interim.
But there’s another aspect of this repetitive scenario that doesn’t fall on Trump’s shoulders. Instead, it is a lapse in the behavior of his staffers, deputies and appointees, and again it is common in startup teams.
As a group, whatever one may feel about their political activities or deeply held beliefs, these are uniformly wise, reputable and accomplished individuals. “The Best and the Brightest,” presidential historians repeatedly call them. Most are subject-matter experts, not generalists. They know their stuff in their specialty, and they leave other stuff to others who are experts in those fields.
When something bad happens and it’s on their turf, they want to step in and help the president explain, bring clarity and take charge. That doesn’t work well with a powerful entrepreneur’s character unwilling to delegate or relinquish authority.
Feel as you may about Trump, he is firmly in charge, and the buck rests solely on his desk. In this trait, Trump is more like Harry S. Truman than Richard Nixon or Dwight Eisenhower, two opposite extremes of masterful leaders who understood and profited from delegation. Harry S. was hated by the Democrats that elected him and they tried to pull him down. A few generations later, history redeemed his legacy, and he became one of their party’s favorites.
There’s an old analogy from thoroughbred horse racing: The best horse always wins the race. Races may change, conditions may change and horses may change, but the winner’s circle is reserved for the horse that ran best on that occasion.
Trump — like all his fellow entrepreneurs — firmly believes that he alone has the power, skills and vision to decide his own fate.
The sooner his subordinates and others surrounding — or criticizing — the Trump Administration realize that, the more likelihood there is for successes to grow.
Individuals that learn to facilitate Trump’s successes will soar to heights in his term of office, while those who block his path or make the mistake of believing they know better than Trump will suffer humiliation, degradation and the wounds of battle.
We don’t know what the president knows, and we don’t know when he knew it. In all likelihood, despite the salivating chops of those who would seek to pull him down like some Gulliver bound in threadlike ropes, Trump will continue his journey as our president leaving behind him a wake filled with Lilliputian bodies lying broken and crumpled.