February 20, 2018 | Kelly

What’s worse? The pain of biting the bullet or facing the deluge when it all goes public?

Simon Barrow on Michael Wolff’s book on Trump White House ‘Fire and Fury’

That is the question I asked myself after reading Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury – inside the Trump White House’ and it is one I thought General John Kelly might well have considered when he became White House Chief of Staff. If this book is telling anything like the truth, he would have seen plenty of evidence on the relationships, organisation and lack of discipline up, down and across the organisation.

On page 304, there is a telling passage describing the feelings of those who joined the Trump White House and believed that this new order would work —

“Now, only three quarters of the way through just the first year of Trump’s term, there was literally not one member of the senior staff who could any longer be confident of that promise. Arguably- and on many days indubitably- most members of the senior team believed the sole upside of being part of the Trump White House was to help prevent worse from happening.”

While the author may have been wide of the mark, there was plenty of public evidence of upsets and exits. General Kelly knew all too well that he had a big job on his hands. Now, however predictable coming from me, I wonder if he considered the use of a team of respected and independent advisers to listen to a cross section of his people in private to produce some findings and facilitate sessions to decide what actions were necessary? He was the man to initiate it since the efficiency and clarity of the staff operation were down to him. Perhaps, he could have insisted on this sort of intervention as an essential part of his remit. The advisers would have been welcomed by his team members. When there is much on peoples minds and no one to whom they can speak to in private, they always are. Furthermore, General Kelly might have made clear at the start that this was about the way the White House worked rather than the President’s strategic leadership. While there might well have been findings of the President’s behaviour which called for change if efficiency was going to be improved, that should be regarded as a positive output.

Such a project would have had these benefits:

However painful this project might have been, it would have put important findings on the table and demonstrated a determination to improve the White House operation.

By not biting the bullet, it allowed an author like Michael Wolff to pick up enough evidence to write a shocking book. In a free country with a free press, this is what can happen if management fails to recognise what independent research commissioned by them can do.  However uncomfortable the findings can be, it is a whole lot better than prompting outsiders to pick up feelings of troubled employees yet without the experience and discipline to guide and deliver a programme of remedial action.

Simon Barrow