Getting “Stuff” Done……
Why Ego-centric Narcissists are not good at it.
Think of President Trump, Prime Minister Johnson…
First: The Making of an effective Chief Executive; Personal Experience
Once upon a time, I worked for a newly appointed chief executive of a very large international company. A very bright man with a banking and finance background.
We were faced with some very difficult problems needing extensive action across the whole company. We had a series of corporate staff meetings and at the end of them the new CEO leant back and said “Well I’ve made a decision, we will do…..X”.
“Good”, I said “And what are we really going to do about it?” He looked puzzled; “I’ve said we have decided” said he. “That’s that”. “There are 40,000 people across the world” I said, “Many of them will have to change what they do and how they do it, there may be needs for job changes and many may lose their jobs”. How is your “decision” going to be translated into coherent action across the company? In Japan, for instance, or Germany, where we have a small majority stake in a very large operation – how do we agree what to do with our partners? The same in France, where we have businesses in three different industries? And what about the United States, where as we all know they have a pretty independent streak and are actually performing better than many other businesses?
“Just to round off, we will need some pretty radical changes in the way we measure performance, not to speak of seismic shifts in the culture that is needed to bind together what is a hugely fragmented and disparate organisation?” “Furthermore: just one more thing, what are the timescales? These changes will take a lot of work. Managers cross the world will need to be briefed. As we as we are proposing some new ways of thinking, and some quite different systems of measuring performance, we will need to get some outside help to work with us corporately and with key leaders in the main divisions”.
There was a long and thoughtful silence, broken by the CEO; “OK, OK”, he said, “I take your point, we obviously need to think much more deeply and to involve many more people, and that will take a lot of work and time”.
It has to be said that this particular CEO did think much more deeply, and over time learned a lot about the processes of getting things done across a large and complex organisation. He also built a different team around him, and carried his message personally around the company. He also Listened a lot and as a result Learned a huge amount of practical wisdom. In the due course of time he went on to become chair of several large and complex organisations, making a reputation as for his forthright wisdom
This CEO, who was a very intelligent man, with a distinguished academic record and with excellent financial knowledge; built on all of this by learning how to listen, to take into account a plethora of different perspectives, to learn how organisations really worked, to be able to build understanding of different cultures and, in short, to become a bright, wise person who could really get things done as part of a team, with a realistic perspective on how long it took to embed change in a large organisation.
This is one true story, let’s try some more……
Whilst leading a country or nation is on a different scale to that of a large Corporation, there are many parallels. A president, prime minister or a national leader has to be cognisant of the need to be elected (though this is maybe becoming a redundant concept – think of Putin, China etc). But, the United States and Britain are still democracies, where management by diktat is not yet possible.
In these two countries and many others there is still the challenge of “Getting Stuff Done” through complex organisations; where appropriate leadership is vital, and the personality and skills of the leader is still of crucial importance
Let us consider one such leader:
Donald J Trump…
One person who delivers huge and constant paeans of praise to himself as the most amazing, wonderful, unique and exceptional person EVER for “getting stuff done” is President Donald Trump. Only yesterday 07/02/2020 he claimed that he had “vanquished” the Coronavirus, and the economy was “roaring back” as a result of his leadership.
President Trump went on to say
“All of this incredible news is the result of historic actions my administration has taken working with our partners in Congress to rescue the US economy from a horrible event that was formed, took place in China, and came here, and they could have stopped it. They could have stopped it. Nobody likes to write that, but they could have stopped it. They know it and I know it.” (Clue)
“We’ve implemented an aggressive strategy to vanquish and kill the virus, and protect Americans at the highest risk, while allowing those at lower risk to return safely to work. That’s what’s happening.”
“And as I said, you’re going to have a fantastic third quarter. It’ll be a third quarter, the likes of which nobody has ever seen before, in my opinion. And the good thing is the numbers will be coming out just prior to the election, so people will be able to see those numbers.”
Note: The backdrop to all of this is that the virus is roaring ahead in most of the United States, that jobless statistics are rising overall, that the number of business closures is at a high level, and very many state governors are either ignoring or contradicting Trumps claims.
Some random quotes from commentators:
“He is not at the front lines at all”,
“He’s absent without Leave from the job”,
“He is unable to Lead, Lives off Tweets.”
What’s it all about? How can we understand what is happening?
Maybe the best way to throw some insights into the Trump White House is to consider the personality of Trump himself.
When Northwestern University psychologist Dan P. McAdams first wrote about Donald Trump’s psyche for “The Atlantic” in 2016, he knew his subject was not your average politician. He just couldn’t nail down why.
His new book, “The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning” (Oxford University Press, March 2020), provides some surprising answers. Trump, McAdams asserts, may be the rare person who lacks any inner story, something most people develop to give their lives unity, meaning and purpose.
McAdams argues Trump can’t form a meaningful life story because he is the “episodic man” who sees life as a series of battles to be won. There is no connection between the moments, no reflection and no potential for growth when one is compulsively in the present.
Donald Trump is a “truly authentic fake,” writes McAdams, professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy. “Trump is always acting, always on stage — but that is who he really is, and that is all he really is. He is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. He does not go deep into his mind; he does not travel back to the past; he does not project far into the future. He is always on the surface, always right now.
“In his own mind, he is more like a persona than a person, more like a primal force or superhero, rather than a fully realized human being,”
Why Is the Trump Presidency of Extreme Psychological Interest?(From Psychology Today)
Trump’s manifest grandiosity and disregard for facts, beginning with failure to accept clear evidence about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration, has put mental health professionals in the spotlight from Day One of his presidency.
Psychologists and commentators from all ideological camps early converged on a label of narcissistic personality disorder as the condition that “explains” Trump’s behavior. Among those making this assertion are more than 70,000 mental health professionals who signed a petition warning of Trump's potential dangerousness, despite longstanding professional injunctions against "diagnosing" public figures whom experts have not personally examined.
Since the campaign that led to his 2016 election, Donald J. Trump has defiantly flipped the presidential script, making chaos and deliberate combativeness the new normal of White House operations, manifest in hostile briefings, high rates of staff turnover, and cultural exchanges that appear aimed at dividing the nation.
Millions of people around the country and the globe have expressed bafflement at the nature of the personality at the centre of it all, and many are alarmed by tactics and policies that appear not only erratic but often retrogressive and undermining of long-established democratic practices. Chief among them is a well-documented distortion of facts if not outright lies about everything from crowd size at the inauguration to discussions with foreign heads of state.”
Now for Boris Johnson, UK premier…
“Moreover, we need competent governance to get us through (The Pandemic), rather than insurgent incompetence to get our votes. In this global crisis our blundering prime minister……. Is certainly not achieving what the group needs”
Of course the world may change again, and Johnson may regain his effectiveness. But perhaps his greatest achievement will be to help debunk the “Great Man” view of history”…
From an article by Stephen Reicher, Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews.
Back to the beginning: What is needed to “Get Stuff Done.”
“It has to be said that this particular CEO did think much more deeply, and over time learned a lot about the processes of getting things done across a large and complex organisation. He also built a different team around him, and carried his message personally around the company. He also Listened a lot and as a result Learned a huge amount of practical wisdom. In the due course of time he went on to become chair of several large and complex organisations, making a reputation as for his forthright wisdom”
Now compare this with the UK and the United States:
It would appear that President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have little concept of or interest in working through complex organisations, in building alliances and effective teams, in having realistic timescales. Neither have shown a scintilla of interest in building strong organisations around them. Trump has a breath-taking record of hiring and firing, whilst dismantling or undermining Federal agencies. Johnson seems to have delegated the dismantling of the professional civil service to a political adviser. Instead, both seem to believe that making loud pronouncements from a podium, and in the case of Trump particularly, declaiming his unique achievements to himself and his narrow electoral base, is the way to “Get Stuff Done”.
Alas the reality is completely different. Coronavirus has exposed this in the most painful way. Coping with Climate Change will be much worse.