I detest bad leadership. I’ve studied leaders since I was 11, and studied management since I was 19. Incompetent leadership and inept management cripples business, the arts, sports, education, government, civilization, the world. I seldom see as horrible an example of both as in the case of President Trump’s verbal tirades against his own Attorney General,Jeff Sessions, first to Republican Senators at a White House dinner on this week, and later in an interview with the New York Times. Sessions responded to his boss’s disgraceful behavior by saying that he intended to serve “as long as that is appropriate.”
The only reason it would be appropriate for anyone to work for a leader, executive, manager or supervisor who treats subordinates this was is patriotism. The nation has to be managed; the government has to function. Other than that, no one with honor, self-respect or a sense of responsibility should voluntarily subject themselves to the kind of abuse this President offers. Reportedly the President insists on loyalty, but loyalty has to be minimally reciprocal. Criticizing a subordinate in public, as with the press, or in private, behind that subordinate’s back, is the equivalent of sin for any leader. It is cowardly. It’s unfair and disrespectful. It is irresponsible, incompetent and stupid, stupid stupid.
Baseball managers who do this lose the support of their teams, and get fired. CEOs who do it in businesses end up ineffective, undermined and isolated. And Presidents? There’s not much precedent for this kind of conduct, because no previous President behaved like this. When previous Presidents felt about Cabinet members or staffers like Trump says he feels about Sessions, they fired them, usually with a standard statement about how much the newly canned were appreciated, wishing them luck. They didn’t do what Trump just did without firing the individual because previous Presidents had sufficient experience, wisdom and common sense to know that it is all of those things I just cited, but especially stupid. Such comments make any leader who does it appear mean, petty and foolish, because such conduct is mean, petty and foolish. They create sympathy for the individual attacked, for everyone can imagine how they would feel being treated that way, and how they would respond in most cases: quit. They nurture contempt and lack of trust in the leader: why would anyone keep on an employee that he is so displeased with as to broadcast that displeasure to outsiders? What sense does that make?
Trump’s attack on Sessions is signature significance. No leader with any self-restraint does it. No leader with prudence and sound judgment does it either. Nor does a leader who understands human nature, organizational dynamics, or what leadership means. The conduct is signature significance for a leader who does not know how to engender trust or loyalty.
It is signature significance for a fool.