Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC
I was heartened by the response to my recent post, “Truth and Leadership.” Now, however, a number of people (including my wife and two daughters) have asked me, in a somewhat exasperated tone, “Why don’t you and other current and former board members and CEOs speak up and do something to help our new President make needed ‘course corrections’ now that he’s been in office for a month?”
Well, without speaking on behalf of anyone else, I’ll take a stab at applying a few leadership lessons I’ve learned over the years in order to offer President Trump a bit of unsolicited, honest, and hopefully constructive advice.
First of all, I would begin by doing what any good board of directors or CEO would do—document important facts and then immediately take steps to advance the organization (in this case the United States).
Fact #1: While opinions may vary, most thoughtful observers now believe that the results of the presidential election reflected a repudiation of “business as usual” in government more than a mandate to implement each of Donald Trump’s campaign promises or an endorsement of his leadership style.
Fact #2: The rancorous presidential campaign and the events of the past month have further polarized portions of the population in this country; correspondingly, since the election, some of our closest allies around the world have become nervous and are seeking reassurance that the United States can be a trusted partner and will act responsibly at home and abroad.
Fact #3: The vast majority of people on this planet want to believe in and trust their leaders; however, leaders must be consistently truthful, reliable, and earn trust day-by-day in order to effectively lead and govern.
Fact #4: We live in a complicated and at times dangerous world where simplistic, off-the-cuff “sound bite” solutions rarely are useful or successful.
Fact #5: No one leader (in government, business, or any other walk of life) can do everything alone—successful leaders assemble strong teams; they take counsel; they provide general direction and encouragement; and then they get out of the way so their teams can excel and get the job done.
If you assume the five facts listed above are true, I’ll move on to five suggestions for President Trump. By the way, this advice would apply equally to any board member or CEO who was faced with a similarly complex and now tenuous situation.
Suggestion #1: Act as a thoughtful statesman and use proper protocol to start building bridges and coalitions rather than picking fights with individuals, classes of people, allied countries, and important institutions (e.g., the media and press, the judicial and legislative branches of government, and the intelligence community).
Suggestion #2: Work hard to get all the facts correct before speaking; only put forth honest and verifiable assertions; quickly correct any misstatements; and have nonpartisan fact-checkers with veto power who are on call 24/7 to proof any presidential communication before it goes live (particularly Tweets).
Suggestion #3: Don’t try to do everything at once; focus the majority of the administration’s effort on implementing a few key initiatives during the next year—e.g., thoughtful healthcare reform, practical immigration reform, and equitable federal tax code reform.
Suggestion #4: Diffuse “flashpoints” and conflict-of-interest controversies through timely, responsible action—e.g., management of Trump Organization businesses during the presidential term, White House staff interaction with Trump family member interests, frequency of trips to Trump Tower in New York and the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, personal tax returns, relationship and contact with Russia and Vladimir Putin, and related issues with some current or pending cabinet members.
Suggestion #5: Hire the best staff available, setting aside politics as an a priori disqualification; be in command of the facts, but don’t micromanage; ensure a free flow of information (whether it is deemed positive or negative); allow constructive debate and “push back” from staff and advisors; provide encouragement and support to the capable and hardworking professionals in government so they can do their jobs with dedication and pride.
None of this is rocket science. Will President Trump need to backtrack or modify some of what he has said and done? Yes. Will he need to alter some aspects of his leadership style? Yes. Will he need to stop campaigning and begin to govern more from the center? Yes. Will it be easy for him? No. Will it weaken or endanger this country? No. Is it in the best interest of the citizens of the United States and other free nations around the world? Yes!
We are one day from closing the book on the first tumultuous month of the Trump presidency, and as we do, I wish our President and his administration only success in the future. With all its complexities, the United States is a great nation now, it has been since its optimistic inception, and with hard work and adherence to the values set forth in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, it will become an even greater nation as time goes on.