A Threat to Humility

In a recent corporate workshop I taught on “Agile Management”, I was talking about Humility and a student challenged me.  He said “Well Trump is not humble and he’s rich and the most powerful man in the world! Why should I be humble?”

How does one answer that?

Trump is a controversial topic.  All rational humans would avoid the topic unless they are blogging on a political website.  But I’m not rational.  What I’d like to do here is put politics aside and examine his management style.

Humility.  I just spent the weekend reading “Fire and Fury” the big expose on the Trump White House.   And while I was reading the book, as if to confirm all suspicion, Trump tweeted “I”m like, really smart” and “I”m a genius, a stable genius at that.”  Humility?  I can’t find any here.

But as my student pointed out, he’s the president, at least a millionaire, and on some level, his lack of humility is working.   What does this mean for the Future of Management?  Instead of promoting Servant Leadership should I start giving workshops on bullying and in-fighting?  It seems to my student that the key to success is to throw humility out the window.  But it is causation or correlation?

Decorum.  Trump seems to buck any decorum in government, bloated bureaucracies, process on top of process.   Disrupt it all!  My little Lean heart just loves this concept.  As long it we know the vision, the end game, the strategy.  The trick is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Innovation.  Trump wants to do things differently in government.  Great!  Let’s get some fresh, new ideas in there!  

There’s a point in “Fire and Fury” where Trump berates the National Security Committee on the options they gave him for Afghanistan.  He says “you spend 4 weeks coming up with the same 3 options you’ve been giving for years!”  And per the book, he berates the team for 2 hours.  

Let’s examine this a little further.  He has a point.  They are not getting creative.  They are stuck in their ways.  But using fear and intimidation to spark innovation?  I'm not too sure about that.

Education and Learning.  Per the book, the Administration abhors intellectuals and anything reeking of data.  The thinking is that progress is made through intuitive sense.  There is a popular spiritual movement that believes that “Information and learning” has people living in “Ego” space and blocks the true human connection.  Ironic huh?  Trump is rejecting living in the “Ego”?  I have had clients that reject any consulting advice I deliver if it’s based on math and science.  I needed to tune my message to speak to their intuitive sense.   

It seems that we are in a classic Athens - Sparta situation, brains vs brawn.  

Managing Up.  Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Trump White House is its tendency to cause capable folks to crumble and break.   The troubled firings in the White House remind me of a quote from Martha Mitchell, whose husband John was a key player in the Watergate Scandal.  She lost respect for John because she believed he was bending to Nixon’s will, and wondered “How could a weak, insecure man, a conglomerate of nothing, manipulate and overpower a strong, confident person like John Mitchell.”

That’s all great gossip in Washington, but is this happening in Corporate America?  From personal experience, I can tell you that it does.  All the management books all the coaching, all the advice out there works on the premise that all the players are playing by the rules.   When you work in a hierarchical structure, your mail goal it to please your boss.  Ideas live and die at the whim of a single person.

How does the precedent being set in the White House affect how we manage in Corporate America?  Should I start replace my “Servant Leadership workshops” with “Winning Through Intimidation”?