I avoid politics as a topic here, but sometimes politicians provide great lessons for the business world, as when the Democratic National Committee had a Twitter fiasco that could have been easily avoided. And when Donald Trump brought up the question of whether unpredictability is useful as a negotiation tactic.

After this past week's turmoil in the White House, it's time to look at the issue of managing people. Trump has provided object lessons of what you should never do. Here are some of the classic mistakes.

Allowing employees to turn on each other

In running an organization, you want people to work together. If they don't, it negatively affects efficiency and may even make achieving goals impossible. A classic example is at Sears. For many years the retailer was a powerhouse. Then, Eddie Lampert entered the scene as a major investor, became CEO, and turned a single company into dozens of separate businesses. Each had its own president, CMO, and board. The individual units had to compete for central services and the individual presidents would try to boost their profits at the expense of other divisions. The move was eventually seen as one of the strategic choices that drove the continuing fall of Sears.

Lampert set the ball in motion. Trump's error was more in not addressing the backstabbing for which his administration quickly became famous. Perhaps the replacement of Reince Priebus with John Kelly will put someone into place who can corral the wayward factions. But such an atmosphere doesn't come and go with a single person. If it had permission before from the man at the top, it could again.

Undermining employees

Speaking of Priebus, or even Sean Spicer, the way they were treated shows how a chief executive should never act. Calling an employee weak or otherwise disparaging people working for you is an utter mistake. If someone bothers you that much, you fire that person. You don't talk about him.

Trump also has repeatedly undermined people working for him by agreeing on one course of action privately and then reversing course in public, leaving the staff member looking like a fool. The head of an organization is there to set strategy, yes, but also to enable everyone below on the organizational chart to achieve their goals.

Putting personal loyalty above loyalty to the organization

But perhaps the worst step, one I've seen CEOs repeat time and again, is to mistake what should be most important, which is the institution and its goals. It stands above the chief executive just as the CEO is at the top of the organizational chart. The whole point of everyone's being there is to achieve a set of goals that enables the overall strategy.

But Trump puts ultimate value on one-way personal loyalty. Everyone else must put him first, although he's shown that he will not reciprocate. That makes it impossible to hear necessary criticisms or to examine actions in relation to the institution's goals.

This last point might be different if you looked at Trump in relation to his own company, which is basically an extension of his personal brand. But when you're at an entity that has its own existence, you need to keep your demands and ego and personal feelings in check.

Published on: Jul 30, 2017
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