President Trump and Michael Flynn: Lessons for Managers

The biggest thing that we know so far about the Michael Flynn situation is that he should have never been hired. When he was let go by the Obama administration, the official word was that clashes in leadership style were to blame. Later reporting revealed that intelligence may have been mishandled in Afghanistan.

Once Donald Trump began running for President, Flynn became an outspoken supporter. He was one of the few prominent military leaders that voiced support for Trump, going so far to give a speech at the RNC convention where he led a “lock her up” chant. During the campaign, Flynn was also being paid to lobby for Turkey and did some work for Russian owned businesses, including giving a speech for the state owned national media outlet RT where he was pictured at Vladimir Putin’s table. Seriously, go look at the picture. The most hackneyed spy thriller writer couldn’t make this stuff up.

As far as we know, the vetting process to evaluate Flynn for the Director of National Intelligence post didn’t pick up any of the Turkey or Russia activity. But the Trump transition team was warned by both President Obama and, later, the acting Attorney General regarding his entanglements with foreign governments.

It wasn’t until the foreign ties started to leak to the press that the Trump administration officially cut ties with Flynn. But even still, Trump has privately said he’d love to find a way to bring Flynn back.

So what in the heck is going on here?

I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more in the weeks and months to come about who did what, when it happened and who knew, but what blows me out of the water at this point is the shocking mismanagement on display. There are three big lessons for every manager to take away from this experience.

President Trump has made it clear how he feels about Michael Flynn, calling him a “fine” and “wonderful” man even after he was fired. Why is he till standing by Flynn? And why was he hired in the first place?

Simple. Donald Trump loves people that tell him how great he is. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of this already. It’s no real surprise at this stage.

But if you’re a manager that’s hiring people who’ll kiss your ass, you’re building a weak team. I don’t care how smart or capable you are. There are going to be days where you miss something or are so busy you can’t do it all. If you don’t have competent people around you who will call out mistakes and help the organization bring it’s best, it’s a matter of time until you fail.

Good leaders hire good people. More specifically, they hire people that will disagree with them sometimes. When I hire, I’m looking for people who either already are or have the potential to be better than me. I don’t get a lot of people to tell me how great I am, but I do find people who go on to do amazing work.

Donald Trump famously trusts his gut above all else. Here he is answering a question about which policy advisers he’s listening to during the campaign.

His best adviser is himself. The underlying premise of that statement is that he must never be wrong. It’s awfully hard to second guess yourself when there’s no external points of comparison.

No doubt, the same thing happened in the Flynn situation. Donald Trump felt good about Flynn. Warnings received from others didn’t carry the weight of his own conviction, so he stuck with him.

If you’re a leader responsible for making decisions, you need to second guess yourself. Constantly. Justify as many decisions as possible with carefully reasoned facts and figures. The Undoing Project is a great book to explain why it’s so necessary. You can fool yourself into thinking all sorts of things. Even the expertise that comes with years of experience can lead you astray if you’re not careful.

Look, we’ve all been there. You made a bad hire or screwed up a project. Maybe your mistake cost money, time or reputation, but it hurt and it was embarrassing.

Do you dig in your heals and demand to re-litigate the situation in front of the entire company day after day? No! You admit you screwed the pooch, stop talking about it and try to knock the next one out of the park.

The absolute worst thing you can do is remind other people of your screw up. Don’t talk about it meetings. Don’t talk about it when you make your next hire. Don’t bring it up during a performance review. If someone else brings it up, repeat after me, “I take full responsibility for that mistake. It was unfortunate. But we found a way to turn it around and are doing better than ever now.”

Every day brings a wave of news and scandal, and I’m sure we’ve got months, if not years, left to go. But what’s most astonishing to me is that a man who’s famous for running a company can be as bad at basic personnel management.

If you’re a manager or leader of people, take these lessons for your own daily life and don’t make the same mistakes.

Professional Amateur & Avid Question Asker