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The presidency of Donald Trump took one of its more outlandish of outlandish twists on Friday when the sitting president of the United States used Twitter to make threats to his former Director of the FBI. It was, depending on who you ask: bold, crass, a clear example of witness tampering, or all of the above with a dash of the impeachable.

What it really highlighted, however, is that Donald Trump remains a one-man operation. There is still little evidence that he listens much to advice or, if he listens, he acts on the words of wiser heads. There were clearly no legal minds in the room capable of warning the President that making such a bold statement could itself be the stuff of a future indictment. Trump clearly accepts no council and believes that the executive power channelled through him can only be directed by him to whatever ends that he deems right and proper. To put it in less polite terms: Trump clearly believes his own bullshit and that will be his ultimate undoing.

Despite his term in office being a relatively new, there are already many ways of thinking about America’s president. A number of psychologists have gone against their own best practice of not diagnosing from a distance by suggesting that Trump is suffering from everything from narcissism to some more complex psychosis. Yet what Trump really displays is something that’s much more recognisable; or, at least, familiar to anybody who has ever laboured in a job that put them at the mercy of a micro-manager.

America is being micromanaged to the detriment of every arm of government and what Americans are now discovering is that the Trump way isn’t the way to run a small business, let alone run a country. The problem, of course, is Trump and the methods he’s brought from his uniquely run empire. He labours under the belief that his desk must look untidy to prove that he’s working hard. Compare, if you will, the stack-em-high approach of Trump to how his predecessors approached the job, usually involving a single folder or a few sheets of paper. A small difference, perhaps, but it’s a telling detail. Good leaders rise above the minutiae and understands where their responsibilities must end. There is nothing, clearly, that this president believes he cannot do better than the people he’s hired to do a job. Good leaders delegate but this leader has centralised every power, responsibility, and decision in the Oval Office. Micromanagement in business usually manifests itself in some fairly common symptoms, such as missed deadlines and a generally unhealthy working environment. Micromanagers crush the spirits of the people working beneath them. If an employee knows that their manager is going to dismiss and often redo the work they’re doing, they put less effort into doing a good job in the first place. This is how micromanagement produces the characteristic feedback loop: the boss believes their underlings are not performing and, therefore, the underlings stop performing. The same seems to be happening under Trump. Across the US government, frustrations are running high whilst it’s noticeable how barely present in the public debate are the cabinet. If a lack of effort is a sign of micromanagement, we need only point out Rex Tillerson who is surely the most invisible Secretary of State in living memory.

We then have the problem with the White House’s communications. Trump clearly believes that the public should be listening to him and not to Sean Spicer, even suggesting that he might end all press briefings so he can communicate directly through press releases or fortnightly press conferences. Meanwhile, Spicer finds himself in an impossible position. No doubt aware that every performance is being scrutinised by his boss, Spicer often seems confused and hesitant. Is he really speaking for the President? He often couches his answers in such vague terms that they seem deliberately designed so they can’t later be contradicted from the Oval Office.

Under Trump the micro-manager, deadlines are routinely missing as the President’s attention cools or moves onto the next big issue. Healthcare is in limbo and unlikely to pass the Senate. The wall with Mexico is showing no signs of advancing. No coal mines are being reopened and America is showing no progress in the Middle East, East Asia, or, for that matter, in terms of its own economic relationships with its neighbours. Trump’s promised to fix everything but will probably fix nothing. The promises have proved to be no more than the empty bluster of a salesman who cared about nothing except making the sale.

The irony of this is, of course, that Trump sold himself to America as being the great businessman. The Trump administration was going to be different because it was going to bring ‘great’ business people into government, instead of all those professional politicians and lettered academics. The result, thus far, has been far from spectacular and should prove to Trump that there is a difference between inheriting wealth, playing a ‘great’ businessman on TV, and the reality of being a true leader in the world of business. What Trump has revealed is the extent to which his own business is an exception to the rules of good business and not an exemplar.

Most examples of micromanagement usually end with a firing or, more often, a business collapse. Small businesses aiming to grow are often left crippled by the instincts of their owners whose drive and determination gets in the way of a proper management structure. America’s government looks like it is finding the same. It is slowly grinding forward, not quite coming to a halt, but it’s obvious that not much will get done until America finds leadership that understands how to delegate responsibility to the right people. At the moment, it’s hard to see it doing that this side of a new election, but, at the rate the FBI investigations have been moving recently, it is quite possibly that change will come sometime in the next couple of years. Trump might only sleep a couple of hours a night and claim superhuman abilities but even he can only micromanage America for a short time before it will burn him out as this last week has surely proved it is doing.

Follow David Waywell on Twitter. His new book of cartoons, The Secret Lives of Monks, is now available from bookshops.


2 Comments on "Micromanaging a Superpower"

  1. Peter Kennedy | 14th May 2017 at 5:40 pm | Reply

    As somebody who works for a micromanager from eight till five a lot of David’s article seems very familiar, from the crowded and untidy desk to the phrase about micromanagers “crushing the spirit”. Since February I have seen all of this happening all over again in the Oval Office and it does not promote a feeling of well being.

    In sacking the head of the FBI Donald Trump has made his first major mistake. Ex-Director Comey has spent a life working in the justice system and you don’t get to be head of the FBI without knowing where the bodies are buried. As a government employee James Comey kept quiet, now he is free to talk.

    This could be fun.

    • Thanks Peter. Having once endured the hell of working for a micromanager, I feel for you.

      Regarding Comey: I think Trump wanted to muddy the waters again but his short term gain will be nothing compared to his long term pain. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t the pattern we’ll see. Really wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wag the Dog situation or two…

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