“Donald Trump may have left behind his domestic woes as he jetted off Friday on his first foreign trip, but he also left behind a White House staff that is increasingly demoralized and overwhelmed… For months, Trump’s staff have lived with exhaustion, backstabbing and a seemingly perpetual drumbeat of crisis.”
PRI, May 20, 2017
A Culture of Crisis
In our book Slammed, we explain that you know you are working in a culture of crisis when you constantly feel you are operating in survival mode. It’s not about moving things forward. Instead, just surviving each day is a triumph. We call this phenomenon a “Slammed culture”.
You know you’re in a Slammed culture when you have:
- Zero bandwidth for more work, and are too deep in the weeds to think about the big picture.
- A low sense of trust for readily handing off anything but the most specific of tasks; there is a hesitancy to delegate if the delegation requires judgment calls.
This is bad news for the White House in more ways than one.
In the Slammed culture, morale plummets. Requests for extra time, extra resources, concern over barriers, in general, all “negative information” is suppressed, unsupported and unresolved. Reasonable or small requests are overlooked or ignored. In fact, you only get what you want when there is a crisis! Soon, everyone learns that crisis is the natural state of affairs, and if it’s not on fire, it’s not important. The message is clear: if you want resources, attention or recognition, you need to set something on fire.
Yes, this is crazy!
Living a Slammed culture is not OK. It shouldn’t take a crisis to make us care. The house (or White House) shouldn’t need to be on fire to grab our attention. Perhaps the most frightening thing about operating in a Slammed culture is that people stop caring and become more selfish over time. Part of self-preservation in the Slammed culture is to hold onto information, seek more power, and blame others for problems. Under such conditions, it’s unlikely that any good, value-driven work can be accomplished.
Forming a Strong Tribe
Another lesson we teach in our book Slammed is that most of us are vastly overrating our own significance. We are vulnerable to the belief that “it all depends on us.” The American culture places a strong emphasis on a high value of self and independence. One could argue that this ego-centric position is no better showcased than with President Trump. He has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for isolating himself from good advisors, placing a distrustful stranglehold on White House staff, and demonstrating a lack of delegation for selecting additional appointments to the team.
Succeeding in any great leadership endeavor (say, like leading the Free World) requires a healthy regard for human interdependencies. Everything important requires the support of others. To change the Slammed culture of the White House, President Trump needs to better honor his need for other people and the help that they can provide. He needs to de-isolate himself, make more meaningful connections, and cultivate a stronger Tribe.
Understanding the importance of a strong tribe for success and happiness is not a new idea. Author Seth Godin reminds us in his book Tribes that humans have always been fundamentally tribal in nature. The desire to connect around shared interests and produce value for ourselves and others is built into our DNA.
It seems “no-brainer.” But, I am not optimistic that President Trump will turn the White House staff into a high-functioning Tribe anytime soon. As long as he sees being a “winner” as something done individually rather than through the support of a great team, and as long as he views dependency as synonymous with weakness, America will remain the loser.