, , , , , , , , , , ,


My regular readers may have been wondering whether I have got a case of bloggers cramp seeing I haven’t blogged for a few weeks. ‘Au contraire’ as Marine Le Pen might say. Rather I felt it was inappropriate to comment of the Trump Presidency without giving him a chance to settle in. After all there is no real antecedent job that would totally prepare you for such a role. You have to ease into it. I recall attending a seminar conducted by Harvard Professor F Warren McFarlan who is Albert H Gordon Professor of Business Administration and Baker Foundation Professor [full disclosure – paid for by JBWere]. McFarlan, as you would expect from a Harvard Professor is an engaging and extremely insightful individual. The premise of his approach is that time should always be taken to get a feel for culture and the local politics to prevent going off half-cocked.


F Warren McFarlan

It would appear that the new President hasn’t taken this approach. To the delight of some and the chagrin of many Donald Trump has blasted out of the blocks all guns blazing. When I say gun it might be helpful to specify what model. It’s no sniper rifle – perhaps more akin to a blunderbuss. Whereas Washington insiders would have a head start having worked in the system – a fact that didn’t appeal to the electorate – Trump has little or no knowledge of the workings of Government, the rules that sit behind this and skill sets required to be an effective leader on the world stage. Putting my business hat on (after all Trump is the head of a family empire) I would expect if you are thrust into a new company (in this case USA Pty Ltd) you would want to get the lay of the land. Half-baked notions of what might be wrong with something may not be the true reflection when you get inside and to the nub of the problem. We have all been there as managers when we found the true cause wasn’t what many people thought it was.

The hardy Washington player or Canberra, London, Wellington for that matter understands that a critical role played by any leadership is diplomacy. So far that skill set has been, one senses, totally devoid in the interplay between the Trump administration and their dealings with the judiciary, the press and some, not all, foreign leaders. It’s almost as if diplomacy is regarded as part of the Washington swamp brigade that needs to be totally dismantled. That’s regarded perhaps as the business of politics and this is a fresh and businesslike approach to running a country. In other words no politics to see here – move on. Part of the public, including a sizeable portion in Australia I would posit, like this ostensibly ‘hard man’ approach. It’s the ‘you’re fired’ approach to management. As any manager who has had to terminate staff and I’ve done probably many more in my time than most, it’s a decision taken with a heavy heart and a lasting impact on your spirit. No one’s flame burns brighter by blowing out someone else’s candle. Trump it would appear delights in the rough and tumble talk where fellow leaders or others in the community get a tongue lashing. To the uninitiated they must think this is how business runs. In some cases it regrettably is.

Diplomacy might, on the face of it, not be an important skill set for business. Clearly ‘The Donald’ has done well without it! You could argue that it’s the preserve of politicians and diplomats. I would argue from a business perspective that it is a core skill. I would go so far as to say it is an essential tool in the manager’s toolkit. We all know about IQ and increasingly managers understand the importance of EQ, but DQ (Diplomacy quotient) is important too.

When Trump thought it advantageous to let on that he had given our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (aka Trumble) a ‘serve’ in ‘his worst phone call of the day’ on a day he spoke to Putin, it broke the rules of diplomacy. Tweeting about it didn’t so much break rules as create a brand new precedent. You don’t see business leaders tweeting or leaking sensitive phone conversations about what, in the business world, is potential business partnerships. In business cordial relationships are key to good business outcomes. We know from research that hostile takeovers are far less successful than those conducted in a civil and businesslike way.


Beth Brooke-Marciniak

Perhaps the best example I have seen lately on the value of diplomacy in the business world is Beth Brooke-Marciniak in her commencement speech to the Class of 2016 at Babson College. Brooke-Marciniak is the Global vice Chair of Public Policy at EY. Someone whose views you would respect in this field. She argues that CEOs are diplomats in their own right. The juggling of short-term and long-term demands from stakeholders in itself requires diplomacy. Diplomacy is required to build teams to get things done. Change cannot be effected without diplomacy. In fact she goes on to argue that there is no power, even as President, without the skilful and patient application of diplomacy.

We live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). To survive and thrive in this environment Brooke-Marciniak argues that we need to slow things down and introduce the dying art of diplomacy. This brings fresh perspective, insight and reflection. As she points out in the race to disruption, people are also getting disrupted. The diplomat understands and empathises with the knock-on effects. Who is thinking about the fall-out from the swathe of Executive Orders emanating from the White House?

Diplomacy provides a perfect platform for negotiation which is critical to business success, both externally and often -less acknowledged -internally. It is, Brooke-Marciniak confesses, brutally time consuming. Perhaps for Trump, desperate to get runs on the board in the first 100 days and prove his mettle to the American people, he has overlooked the fact that ‘light’ not ‘heat’ is what we expect from his approach. I suspect anyone wailing around in the Trump Corporation making lots of waves but no real outcomes would have a pretty limited lifespan. ‘You’re fired!’

It’s worthwhile heeding Brooke-Marciniak’s recipe for diplomacy.

  1. It takes courage. This is the courage to be who you are; to be authentic. That goes to trust and trust is the core to diplomacy.
  2. Listen more than you talk. You don’t know everything so be prepared to learn.
  3. Be prepared to compromise. Diplomats see compromise as a strength not as a weakness

Trump would do well to internalise these three rules especially learning the art of compromise.

When business talks about win-win that is seldom the case. Even when two companies merge there is always a winner and loser. Diplomacy is getting people who are marginally unhappy with the situation to go along with it for the greater good. The world of international affairs is no different. Where the developed world might have to take more of the strain with respect to climate change, for example, to help the whole world, surely this is a good thing. Trump says America has been taken advantage of for too long. Trump denies climate science and puts a known anti-EPA protagonist in charge of US environmental policy. This smacks of many things but not diplomacy. I wonder if someone could put this point to him patiently, calmly and diplomatically!