Trump’s Lord of the Flies Management Style Is Coming Back to Haunt Him

Donald Trump cannot truly be said to have a managerial style. So far as we can tell, his ethos seems to be to hire vicious and aggressive people whose number one qualification is absolute loyalty to him, without regard to how well they might work together as a team or how competent they might be in absolute terms. The goal of any organization Trump is a part of is simply to give Trump more access to money, women and fame. Trump does not return loyalty given to him.

Insofar as he does have a management principle, it is to set people against each other in a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere of ruthless competition for resources and attention–a combination of Ayn Rand and Lord of the Flies. That strategy has its advantages and drawbacks in the private sector, but it’s particularly toxic in a public-facing organization ostensibly serving the common good. When you set everyone against each other you can create some innovation and internal efficiency at the expense of cohesion and inter-departmental synergy. Usually the drawbacks outweigh the advantages even in the business world. In the public sector it is disastrous. The failure to understand the difference between management designed to drive maximum profit, and management designed to effectively steer the ship of state is why it’s bad idea to to elect people who want to run the government like a business.

This is a lesson that Trumpworld is now learning. Well, it would be learning it if it had the capacity to learn. When everyone hates and mistrusts each other, and no one can count on loyalty from the boss, each individual seeks to score points with the press at the expense of the organization. In the White House, that means leaks from all directions, without end:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lambasted the communications team Friday over leaking details of a White House staffer’s reported mockery of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s health during an internal meeting earlier this week.

According to the news website Axios, Sanders and other senior members of the press team were not as much bothered by the substance of the staffer’s remarks about McCain than the fact that they had been leaked to the press.

“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” a visibly upset and furious Sanders told attendees during Friday’s meeting, Axios reported, citing five staffers who were in the room. “And that’s just disgusting.”

At the center of the debacle were remarks from Kelly Sadler, a special assistant in the White House, who reportedly took issue with McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel, the Trump administration’s nominee for CIA director. Sadler allegedly dismissed the lawmaker’s concerns earlier this week, saying “he’s dying, anyway.”

Even more amusing is that this leak didn’t come from one person. It came from no fewer than five sources.

Sanders’ prediction came true. What follows below is a leak from that very intense meeting yesterday, according to five sources in the room. The broad outlines of this meeting were first reported by ABC News.

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Why this matters: The White House communications and press team has been beset by leaks. This last one appears to have crossed a line, and several people in the room on Friday told me they now walk into meetings knowing they can’t trust their own colleagues. In big meetings, they feel inclined, now, to keep their mouths shut.

There is no honor among thieves, particularly when the boss is so obviously grifting personally from the job and doesn’t seem to care who lives and who dies. Staffers can make ghoulish comments about a Senator battling brain cancer without repercussions. Other staffers can leak those comments to the press for momentary advantage, and they too will suffer no recrimination because you would have to fire the whole team. Which might be possible, but a new team wouldn’t behave any differently because the fish rots from the head. Sadler’s deplorable comment was enabled by the general atmosphere of ugliness that Trump promotes, and the leak of her comment was necessitated by the cutthroat atmosphere Trump cultivates in his organization.

It is notable how stark this contrast is with the relatively leak-free Mueller probe, whose team of professionals and public servants have troves of explosive information about the President unknown to the press but keep it all close to the vest. Trump isn’t just a disaster on a policy level and as a national leader. His managerial incompetence is manifest at even the smallest levels.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.