Leadership Missteps at the Top

“Trump, in his interview, indicated he thought it was unfair to the president for Sessions to have recused himself.”

I like President Trump. I have from the beginning, but there are things that do happen and stories we all read that do give one pause. Having run companies in the past—certainly not as big an enterprise as the Trump organization—and, I think more importantly, being in leadership positions in my military career, I learned how the things you say affect morale and performance, often with unintended consequences.

I think, before I really get into where I am going, there has to be some acknowledgment of the president’s type of personality. He is a man who is infinitely confident in his own abilities. Looking at that in the light of his accomplishments over the years, you would have to agree. Like the politics or not, Republican or Democrat, there is no getting around the fact that Donald Trump has been wildly successful in his life. He has recovered from business and market downturns, scandals, and hardships, and he always comes out smelling like the proverbial rose.

Then in the biggest gamble, he was elected president against all the odds. No one thought he would win the nomination—certainly not with the chance of a nonpolitician who had never held office and did not understand (or maybe better yet, care) how politics worked.

Donald Trump says what he thinks. He says things, I feel, many times for reaction. We see this from his Twitter account, from his interviews, and in his off-the-cuff remarks. These sometimes awkward exchanges are often touted in the media as gaffes or mistakes. I think they are just a view of a man who has been in charge for a very long time and didn’t really concern himself with what people think of him. He was going to do things his way, sometimes in a heavy-handed way, and it has worked.

Now in this latest issue, there is another case where President Trump’s words bring concern. It was not devastating; his remarks are not going to end his presidency, as some would hope, but I do think a little more thought before speaking would have been the better way to go.

It is reported that President Trump criticized his staunch supporter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself in the Russia/election/collusion/email investigation. Trump, in his interview, indicated he thought it was unfair to the president for Sessions to have recused himself. Had he known Sessions was going to take that action, he would have picked someone else for the job.

That is a hard thing to hear if you are Jeff Sessions, but he is an adult, and this too will pass. It still, in my opinion, was not the right thing to say. Understanding second- and third-order effects needs to be considered when comments are made. Anything the president says will be repeated, reported, parsed, and analyzed over and over again. The president’s criticism of his attorney general, which I think was honestly how he felt, could not have any greater effect than causing a little heartburn in the attorney general. As I mentioned, this will pass, and Attorney General Sessions has already expressed that with his comment, “We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”

It is well-accepted that there have been unforced errors committed by the Trump administration as well as by the president himself. Tweets and short comments are so easily made into things they were not intended to convey, but when you depend on putting out information through a message of 140 characters, mistakes will be made, and intended impressions with be misconstrued.

President Trump has made a lot of things happen. There are many achievements, but they are clouded and overshadowed by simple and uncalled-for mistakes. That well-known adage of “think about what you are going to say before you just say it” sure seems to apply here.

Jon Harris

Jon Harris is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former Army NCO, Sergeant Morales Club member, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He is published in Army Trainer Magazine, authored regular columns in several newspapers, and is the author of the Cold War novel Breakpoint. His adventures as a security contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq can be found on www.dispatchfromdownrange.com. He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice and is currently completing his Juris Doctor degree.

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