What CEOs can learn from President Trump’s coup

Columnist Rob Enderle describes how new CEOs missioned with massive change can experience far more success than failure.

In November, I wrote how one might use a method for measuring CEO success in order to measure President Trump’s progress. I intended then, and still intend, to revisit this to assess his progress.   However, there is an aspect of a political leader like a President that most CEOs don’t have to deal with and that is there if virtually no way to truly train to be a President.

Now there are similar elements but for someone like President Trump with no real political experience the closest comparison would be Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, which clearly isn’t ending well. She had no CEO experience, wasn’t mentored into the job, and came from outside of Yahoo. She started not knowing who she could trust and, because she came from a very different area, bringing people she trusted out of Google to build that initial trusted team.

[ Related: How a CEO assessment model might predict Trump’s success or failure ]

In short, you start with all eyes on you, no idea who you can trust, and no idea what the extent of your power is. It would be like if the Royal Family for some country died and someone showed up at your doorstep saying you were the next in line for the throne. If you’ve watched Game of Thrones that actually seems to happen a lot, and the poor sap that got the job tends to die pretty quickly largely because they get the authority and responsibility mix wrong. So, your first operational step should be to establish a baseline and then build and assure that the authority you have is both what you need and what you can depend on.   That may be what Trump is doing.  

Let me explain.

Trial balloon for a coup

What got me started on this line of thought was an interesting post from Yonatan Zunger, a well-regarded Google engineer titled “Trial Balloon for a Coup?” I’d been arguing for some time that those of us following President Trump as analysts should be spending more time on why the President was doing things than on what he was doing. My friend Tim Bajarin over at Creative Strategies sent me the link to this asking if it was what I was looking for and it was darn near dead on.

[ Related: What CEOs can learn from President-elect transition process ]

Now Yonatan suggests that the method is nefarious and self-serving with the idea of a coup being bad. But, if you think about it, anyone who comes into any organization at the top bypassing succession planning and the normal pragmatic process of internal tenure to rise to the top is effectively leading a coup. Gerstner at IBM was a coup, Fiorina at HP was a coup, Mayer at Yahoo was a coup and only one out of three worked. Trump coming outside of the normal process in either party was a coup regardless of what he intended to do on the job so a process tied to a coup wouldn’t be troubling it would be appropriate.

Now, as I noted above, when you come in at the top and are missioned with changing the organization you just took over you need to know what tools you have, how powerful they are, and assess any personal danger before someone gives you a haircut starting midpoint on your neck.

This suggests you need to create a crucible where you toss in a lot of heat, toss in your likely flawed tools, hand hopefully forge something you can use. In this case, you then stand back and assess who you can trust to do what you order, who you can’t trust, who you can use, who you must eliminate, and who you can promote for greater impact.

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