Trump White House intrigues: don’t try them at work

Conspiracies take up time and energy that are almost always better spent pursuing the organisation’s loftier ambitions.

In this July 21, 2017 photo, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to members of the media in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington. Scaramucci was fired  after just 11 days on the job. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In this July 21, 2017 photo, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to members of the media in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington. Scaramucci was fired after just 11 days on the job. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

 

Of all the theories for the short tenure of Anthony Scaramucci, the most intriguing - in every sense - crops up in a short Axios post.

The website reports it hears that Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, and her husband Jared Kushner “brought in Scaramucci as an instrument of destruction against Reince Priebus [former chief of staff] . . . [from] their perspective he served his primary purpose: destroying Reince”.

It sounds like the opposite of the interpretation favoured by many others, that the demise of Mr Scaramucci as the US president’s communications director owed more to the arrival of Mr Priebus’s successor, John Kelly. The former marine general is said to want to stamp some military discipline on the disorderly White House, insisting that in future all administration officials go through him to get to the president - including Mr Trump’s daughter and son-in-law.

The theory also goes against the grain of much recent management discussion of how to form productive teams. Scholars agree it is hard to manage star players, and even harder to run a diverse group, but the emphasis lately has been on encouraging collaboration rather than deliberately fomenting discontent. The latter is a tactic more familiar from the pages of Machiavelli, Shakespeare’s Henry IV , or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall , with its stiletto-sharp analysis of the plot-riven court of Henry VIII.

But the reason I cannot think of any obvious business examples is almost certainly not because they don’t exist, but because such cunning manoeuvres go on well below the spotlight that focuses on chief executives and boards.

In fact, the Trump and Kelly approaches are not mutually exclusive. Prescribing Mr Scaramucci as a sort of human purgative to rid the White House of Mr Priebus could be a way of preparing for the adoption of a more orderly White House management style (though recent history suggests it is wishful thinking to assume dysfunction has been flushed out of the system).

Whether you should try this in your own organisation is a quite different matter. I am a natural Kellyite, preferring clear lines of authority over Trumpian constructive chaos. It is risky, and wrong, whatever you think of Mr Scaramucci, to use an individual merely as a tool to prise another person out of the team. Conspiracies take up time and energy that are almost always better spent pursuing the organisation’s loftier ambitions.

Finally, allowing intriguers too much space will make the workplace a deeply unhappy place. While I may not weep for Mr Priebus, and still less for the foul-mouthed Mooch, I do worry for those lower down the White House hierarchy. Their wellbeing and productivity depends on the achievement of at least some semblance of stability at the top. Governance by plot and intrigue cannot help.

Andrew Hill is management editor of the Financial Times. FT service

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