Editorial Board

White House Management 101

Trump needs a crash course in executive leadership.

Wait, wait, I know this one!

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s rocky start should come as no surprise. He has no experience in government or large organizations -- his company is a small family office that employs a few dozen people. Before finding success through television and licensing deals, his career was defined by a series of failures and bankruptcies. The image he has cultivated for himself as the CEO of a global empire is even more spurious than a degree from Trump University. 

Still, the level of ineptitude has been staggering -- leaving his administration in disarray, stalling his agenda in Congress, and shaking U.S. allies’ confidence in American leadership. For the country’s sake, much less his own, Trump needs get the hang of the job quickly. But how? Here, in the bullet points he is said to prefer, are here are a few management principles he might find useful.

♦  Respect your workforce. Trump frequently extols the virtues of “our men and women in uniform,” and they deserve the praise. But they are not alone. The federal government has more than 2.5 million civilian employees; most of them are hard-working and professional. Trump has had hardly a good word for them, and he has likened the intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. No wonder there have been so many intelligence leaks. An effective executive gets the most out of his or her employees by challenging and inspiring them, which begins with setting a respectful tone. Attempting to stamp out leaks through fear and intimidation, or muzzling what agencies can say about climate change, will only backfire.

♦  Keep your team in the loop. Vice President Mike Pence learned through the news media that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to him about a conversation with the Russian ambassador, even though Trump had known it for two weeks. Special adviser Kellyanne Conway went on television to declare that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn just hours before Trump fired him. The Department of Homeland Security seemed to be caught off-guard by Trump’s executive order placing a temporary ban on immigration from seven countries. The failure to work as a team leads to infighting and media distractions, as well as to policies that are poorly thought through and badly implemented. It’s up to the executive to make sure that key staff members are not left in the dark.

♦  Don’t alienate your allies. Trump’s curt call with Australia’s prime minister needlessly insulted an important ally. His demand that another close ally, Mexico, agree to pay for a U.S. border wall caused the cancellation of a meeting with its president and stirred up Mexican resentment. His refusal to accept any Syrian refugees has left European leaders questioning the U.S.’s claim to moral authority in global affairs. These are all examples of hubris. The U.S. has enough enemies in the world. The president should not be making more of them.

♦  Empower your top lieutenants. Attracting talented private-sector leaders into government requires giving them the autonomy to be innovative and run their own shops. Without that, many will refuse to serve, as Trump is now learning. Such autonomy begins with allowing agency heads to hire their own teams without political interference. Yet the White House has vetoed various hires, usually for the worst of all reasons: They were critical of Trump during the campaign. To state the obvious, Trump needs more competent people in his administration. Blacklisting those who criticized candidate Trump eliminates a large pool of qualified people. Trump should recognize that the campaign is over, and that he has nothing to gain -- and the country has much to lose -- from holding grudges. 

It’s true that a certain amount of awkwardness, even incompetence, is normal for any new president. It’s a tough job with a steep learning curve. All the more important for the president to begin applying some basic management principles in the White House.

    --Editors: Francis Barry, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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