I do a lot of CEO assessments. However, when it comes doing a CEO turnaround there is a prescribed process that typically leads to success that might actually apply to the U.S. presidency. While it is far too early to assess Trump’s performance, because he doesn’t have the job yet, I can provide milestones that could be used to measure whether he is likely to eventually be a success or failure. Let’s talk about that this week.
[ Related: How Trump defeated Clinton using analytics ]
Success or failure
First, we’d have to agree on what constituted a success or failure. Typically, the party that the president is from will praise their success and the other party will paint the result as a failure. I think the only true measure of success or failure is whether they selected their successor or whether the successor was selected by their rival party. The reason I think this is the best measure is because much of the accomplishments of a president mature after they leave office, but if a rival comes in the first thing they typically do is remove much of the related initiatives. By this measure the only recent president that was a success was Ronald Reagan. Obama reversed much of what George Bush Jr. accomplished and Trump will likely reverse much of Obama’s progress.
So with that measure here are some critical milestones.
Building a loyal team
This is the step that many new CEOs and presidents seem to miss. If you don’t have loyal lieutenants your administration will likely be defined by infighting and secret rebellions. As a leader you need to know that your direction will be followed and that your executive staff can be trusted and won’t subvert your agenda with their own. This is one of the key foundational elements, this is something, for instance, that Carly Fiorina never did at HP and thus her failure could be forecast early on.
There are always some critical people that simply aren’t up to the jobs they are given. This is most obvious and common in political organizations where jobs are often given as gifts and media is ever present, but it is a common occurrence in companies as well often with existing executives whose capabilities are assumed but later found to be lacking. Meg Whitman’s tenure was defined largely by a revolving door of executives who reported to her, signifying she was largely unsuccessful at assuring competence.
Assuring accurate intelligence
This is where George W. Bush largely failed as did John Akers at IBM, the first IBM CEO ever fired. Without accurate intelligence you can’t see and respond to problems in a timely manner, are more easily manipulated by false information, and decision-makers can’t make good decisions from bad data. Given Donald Trump’s performance so far I expect this will be his biggest problem. If he can’t assure that the information he makes decisions from is accurate he will be unable to assure his decisions are the right ones.
As a CEO or the president it isn’t just doing a good job that is important, it is being perceived as doing a good job. Both unsuccessful CEOs and presidents seem to think that their image after they get the job or get elected isn’t important.