Kevin O’Neill: The Fine-Tuned Machine (Revisited)

When I was young, I worked for a man named George Butvilas. George was a Vice President at American National Bank in Chicago when I first met him. I worked for George four different times, but my fondest memories are tied to that first staff position I had working for him at American National’s Tel-A-Data subsidiary when I was in my mid-twenties.

We had a weekly one-on-one meeting, and I don’t think one of these passed without George imparting a nugget of management wisdom. Inevitably, one of our meeting topics led to, “Kevin, this is Management Lesson Number…” Other than management lesson #1 (Hire good people), I’m certain the numbers were randomly chosen in the moment; but the wisdom always was a nugget of pure gold.

Now I’m old, and I have some nuggets of my own to share; so suspend your political point of view, and suspend your opinion of Trump himself. The context is political, but this is Management Lesson #24 for aspiring leaders.

Three months ago, President Trump claimed that his administration was operating like a fine-tuned machine; and three months ago, I told you why that was impossible under the best of circumstances.

Whether you embrace the Tuckman model or you evaluate your team’s development on a less structured continuum from immature to mature, leaders must (a) understand where their teams are and (b) adapt their behavior to provide what their teams needs to progress. Clearly Trump didn’t understand his team when I wrote the blog entry three months ago, and he might not understand any better now.

Prolonged chaos is the result – inconsistent messaging, leaks as staff members vie for power and chase their own agendas, etc. The administration is in the worst possible place, stuck on storming with no end in sight.

Leading a team is a skill entirely different from making deals or having popular ideas. It’s hard work. It’s a challenge, even for experienced leaders. If the leader can’t or doesn’t do it well, luck is the only way a team can become cohesive.

The CEO/COO model is an alternative. It’s what worked for Bill Clinton after two years of storming during his first term. Leon Panetta replaced longtime FoB Mack McLarty, redirected the team to the Clinton agenda, and created a functioning administration.

Clearly Reince Preiebus doesn’t have control of the team. That shouldn’t be a big surprise for those who paid attention to his time at the RNC. Unless you think his last act was getting Trump elected which I’d say happened despite the RNC, Priebus’ last act was the attempt to engineer a victory for Jeb Bush.

Media creatures are reporting rumors about personnel changes when Trump returns from World Tour 2017. Only one change matters. See what Trump does with his COO spot, the Chief of Staff. With media, Democrats, and a portion of the Republican party opposing him, he needs his Executive Branch in his corner. The Chief of Staff has that responsibility.

We’ll see.


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