Trump may be making a huge management mistake

Trump may be making a huge management mistake

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of the Senate about immigration at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Thomson Reuters

It's potentially fixable.

  • Michael Wolff's controversial new book, "Fire and Fury," suggests that Trump trusts his own expertise over everybody else's.
  • Leadership experts say that's generally a counterproductive behavior.
  • They also suggest it's possible to overcome that tendency with some self-awareness.

Describing Trump's transition to US president, journalist Michael Wolff paints a picture of a relatively unsophisticated, often inept leader.

An excerpt from Wolff's explosive new book, "Fire and Fury," published in New York Magazine, implies that Trump didn't especially want to become president - and that he certainly wasn't prepared for it.

One of the most intriguing descriptions of Trump's management style in the early days of his presidency, based on interviews Wolff conducted with former deputy White House chief of staff Katie Walsh, as well as other sources, is this:

"He trusted his own expertise ­- no matter how paltry or irrelevant - more than anyone else's."


Wolff writes that it was difficult to make suggestions to Trump and that the president mainly trusted his gut when making decisions.

I asked Kim Scott, who is a CEO coach, an alum of Apple and Google, and the author of the 2017 management book "Radical Candor," what it means for a leader to trust his own expertise above anyone else's.

It's important to note here that while Scott is a leadership expert, she doesn't know Trump personally. Her analysis of his management style is based on Wolff's observations - which may or may not be credible, depending on who you ask - and on Scott's own observations of Trump's behavior from afar.

Scott told me one of the most important behaviors of a leader is to do what she calls "push decisions into the facts." That is, delegate decisions to people with the appropriate knowledge and expertise.

This is not Trump's signature management style, Scott said, according to Wolff's account and what she knows about Trump's behavior.


"Very often," she said, "people who have the most authority start making all the decisions," instead of people who specialize in those areas.

"A good leader resists that urge to grab the decisions for themselves and delegates decision-making to the people on their team who are closest to the information," Scott said. "Leadership is often about having the humility to do that rather than the arrogance to just say, 'Well, if I decide, it'll be a better decision because I decided - even though I know nothing, or less than others.'"

It's possible for a leader to overcome the urge to make every decision himself

Meanwhile, Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of the forthcoming book "Questions are the Answer," told me via email that entrepreneurs - like Trump - are more prone to the over-confidence bias than other people are. That's "where leaders overestimate and overvalue their own views and contributions and as a result, they act with far more certainty than the situation warrants."

Gregersen isn't the only expert to observe this pattern: Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, calls it the "self-enhancement bias."

If these patterns sound familiar, Gregersen said it's possible to do better. "Any entrepreneur in the White House, not just Trump," he said, "can overcome these inherent biases - if aware of them - and learn to calibrate their own experience better when confronted with alternative views of the world based on radically different data sets."