President Donald Trump doesn’t trust his own White House staff. Nor does he trust his intelligence agencies, the FBI or the Justice Department. He frequently says or tweets derogatory things about them and signals that he doesn’t have confidence in them or their work. Last week he tweeted that the Justice Department was “out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he did not commit.”
For a self-proclaimed innocent man, Trump sure acts like he has something to hide, even to the point of throwing his own staff in the Justice Department and FBI under the bus.
Trump degrades his cabinet secretaries, especially the two top leaders of the Justice Department, both of whom he appointed, and the director of the FBI, whom he appointed. He verbally criticizes, according to multiple media sources, members of his cabinet, all of whom he appointed, in front of other cabinet members.
When he is not publicly berating them, he is frequently undermining them. In October 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Asia trying to open talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump sent out a tweet saying that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” Months later, Tillerson has been fired and Trump’s new secretary of state is establishing a meeting with Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Trump talks about firing cabinet members for weeks or months before actually firing them, allowing them to hang in the wind while waiting for the call. Then, when they are fired, they may hear about it on the news (FBI director) or via a tweet (secretary of state and others).
Despite all of these variables which describe a dysfunctional work environment and a boss who isn’t loyal to the people who try to serve him and our nation, Trump can’t figure out why his staff are not loyal to him.
Last week, Trump complained that members of his White House staff were leaking to the press. He referred to staff who leak as “traitors and cowards.” Yet, it is widely reported that Trump spends his evenings on the phone with friends, including reporters from Fox News, asking them for advice and consultation. One has to wonder if Trump isn’t the primary White House leaker?
Staff turnover in the Trump White House is the highest for any administration in modern history. By the end of his first year in office, according to PolitiFact, Trump had a 34 percent turnover rate for White House staff. This compares to a 9-percent rate for former President Barack Obama and 6 percent for former President George W. Bush. People come and go so quickly under Trump. Working in the White House used to be an honor and a privilege. Today, many consider it a place to go to get your reputation soiled.
Trump has not learned one of the most basic rules of effective management: Loyalty is earned. You can’t buy loyalty and you can’t demand loyalty. Also, loyalty is a two-way street. If you want your staff to be loyal, you need to be loyal to them. This means treating them as a valued asset to your organization, caring about them, expressing your appreciation and praising them for the good work they do.
Loyalty is earned by being forgiving, too. A good manager balances the good and bad in everyone and every situation. Public humiliation, as Trump demonstrates frequently with the Justice Department, the FBI, and members of his cabinet, earn him disloyalty, not loyalty. It brings him disrespect, not respect.
Trump belittles and disrespects those around him. No wonder, then, that some of his employees have little loyalty toward him.
Trump does not allow White House staff to carry personal cell phones to work because he doesn’t trust them. According to Newsweek, their cell phones are “placed in small storage lockers” recently installed at White House entrances, and “scanning equipment is deployed to detect devices” by Secret Service agents going from office to office. Politico reports that Sean Spicer, former White House communications director, once “called roughly a dozen staffers into a meeting and demanded they put their phones on a table to show they were not responsible for leaks.” Again, if you communicate to your staff that you consider them untrustworthy, don’t expect them to be trustworthy.
When the president makes everything about him and throws everyone else under the bus, individual survival is more important than teamwork.