Editorial Comment: A Tale of Two Delegators


After thinking about the stylistic mannerisms of DJT and his pal Mattis, I believe I am approaching the truth.

Trump is a Management by Exception executive.  IOW he establishes broad guidance for his principal subordinates, delegates authority to them and sits back to watch the machine run.  He then feels free to watch TV news shows, argue with the CIA PDB briefers and intervene on an exceptional basis with his subordinates to give them "course corrections,"  a-s chewings and/or pats on the head as he probably did with the employees of his sole proprietor company.  He also has no inhibitions about making side deals with various other CEO types without informing "his people."

Mattis, the warrior monk,  has a highly developed style of management that is not very different from that of his boss.  He, too, is a management by exception type.  It is now clear that he has returned a lot of power and authority to his subordinates both at the service departments (Army USMC, Navy, USAF) but also in the operational chain of command (CENTCOM, PACOM, etc).  He believes in delegating to his subordinates as much power as they think they need.

This sounds great, especially if you have ever worked for the far more common, nitpicking, micro-manager types.  BUT, there is a certain cumulative effect when you  have two Delegators stacked one on top of the other in the hierarchical world of government.  IMO the result can be seen in the case of Syria where military commanders in the field have been given a great deal of freedom of action to pursue what they think we should be doing even as DJT is busy with the TV news, tweeting away happily, and engaged his own pursuit of "side deals."

This results in fitful beginnings and endings, orders from the WH that have no antecedents from the point of view of the forces in the field and  frustration of officers who are not accustomed to sudden change and who are generally rigorous rather than creatively spontaneous thinkers.  Having watched US military think tanks try to deal with futures they have not seen as yet, I can testify to the existence of a collective absence of "the vision thing."

Well, pilgrims, The DJT/Mattis method is one way of doing business.  pl


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21 Responses to Editorial Comment: A Tale of Two Delegators

  1. LondonBob says:

    Trump campaigned pretty clearly on opposing regime change, defeating ISIS, improving relations with Russia etc. Those lower down the food chain should have taken note of this and these goals should now govern their actions accordingly. I have seen little difference in deeds and words though.

  2. b says:

    Thanks Pat,
    I have seen that management style working well but only when the rules and aims were clearly and repeatedly laid out. Auftragstaktik requires that everyone knows the situation and the general aims. It can’t work without those frames. It also needs a control element in form of reporting back.
    As for Mattis
    1. he is ignoring the general rules and aims Trump laid out (at least the public ones). Did Trump order a continued occupation of east-Syria? The retraining of ISIS into new “freedom fighters”? I don’t think so. Is he informing Trump on these issues? I don’t think so.
    2. he is not a good Auftragstaktik leader and clearly not a good politician. As SecDef he needs to be one.
    Micah Zenko made some remarks here about the Mattis pretty disastrous press conference:
    – On May 28, Mattis claimed, “delegating [strike] authority to the lower level allows us to [protect civilians better].” His judgment was incorrect (according to DOD data), but he never acknowledged that he was wrong or directed a change in course.
    – Full Mattis comments on US support for Saudi airwar in Yemen are legitimately disturbing. He either doesn’t know what’s happening, or is intentionally misleading.
    – Mattis says, “We’re showing them how to use intelligence so that you very precisely try to miss killing civilians.” US has been doing this for 2 1/2 years, and it hasn’t reduced civilian fatalities from airstrikes, at all.
    – Mattis telling a journalist “don’t screw with me on this” is unconscionable for a public servant, plus it sets a terrible command climate for the Dept of Defense.
    – Any DOD official or general officer can act offended when journalists ask questions about military policy that they don’t feel like answering.

  3. Lemur says:

    Trump’s relationship with his subordinates has been compared to that of feudal lord and vassal.

  4. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Thanks for your analysis, it seems to have a lot of validity.
    Another comparison worthy of consideration
    (it sounds consistent with much of the reporting on the Trump White House) is:
    “America’s Mayor”
    The 45th president is trying to run the White House like it’s city hall.
    By Jack Shafer, Politico Magazine, 2017-06-26

  5. Excellent analysis of management style.
    But this piece by Gareth Porter shows what happens when “management style” gets influenced by outside parties…and leads directly to a nuclear crisis.
    How Cheney and His Allies Created the North Korea Nuclear Missile Crisis
    I especially liked this:
    But Clinton didn’t go to North Korea to sign the deal in the final months of his presidency, and the election of George W. Bush in November 2000 was a major victory for the missile defense lobby. Bush named Rumsfeld, the primary political champion of a missile defense system, as his Secretary of Defense. And no less than eight figures with direct or indirect ties to Lockheed Martin, the leading defense contractor in the missile defense business, became policymakers in the new administration. The most important was Dick Cheney, whose wife, Lynn Cheney, had earned more than half a million dollars serving on the board of directors of Lockheed-Martin from 1994 to 2001.
    End Quote
    I reiterate: “And no less than eight figures with direct or indirect ties to Lockheed Martin, the leading defense contractor in the missile defense business, became policymakers in the new administration.”
    ‘Nuff said.

  6. Tel says:

    There’s one thing that no subordinate at ground level can ever decide for himself and that is the overall purpose of the mission. You can delegate responsibility by all means but you still need to explain WHY you sent him to Syria in the first place.
    So the USA has close ties with the Kurds now, and is supplying arms to the Kurds. Is the purpose really Kurdish independence? But the Kurds in Iraq have repeatedly been told not to attempt independence and when Baghdad sent troops to knock those Iraqi Kurds back into line the USA just shrugged and let it happen. Is the purpose the same story as before… “Assad must go” ? Trump is no fool, he must see that Assad is in a good position to consolidate his power now. Is the purpose to annoy Turkey? Erdogan has repeatedly asked the USA not to arm the Kurds, and there have already been clashes, so maybe the USA wants to keep Turkey on the leash a bit?? Nominally Turkey is still a NATO ally, maybe that doesn’t mean what it used to.
    Is there some secret “whisper in the ear” process where someone explains to the US troops in Syria where this is all supposed to be going?
    Maybe they are just there to test some weapons and keep their eye in… it would be the simplest explanation that fits observation, if you completely ignore any moral dimension.

  7. JohnB says:

    James – I think Trump and Putin have an understanding as to where they want Syria to go but as for a deal, I have to be convinced there is a ‘deal’ in place.
    I have to say that the Colonel’s assessment of Trumps Presidential management style seem pretty spot on and I think this was always likely to be what type of President he would.
    As for Mattis i haven’t really studied him to to fully understand what his modus operandi is but B’s points seem valid.

  8. Walrus says:

    The problem with this management style is that old axiom; you can bypass one link in the chain of command but you can’t bypass two links. To put that another way, two bad bosses one above the other in the chain and you are screwed.
    I’m not saying Trump or Mattis are bad bosses but if a subordinate thinks he has a problem with a Mattis decision in this situation then appealing to the President is not going to ever work. Trump will simply delegate back to Mattis.
    To put that yet another way, what looks “exceptional” to a subordinate won’t necessarily look exceptional to Mattis or Trump. That is the danger, especially in regard to Israel, Ukraine, Syria and Iran. Warnings about potential reactions to American actions may be ignored as being “unexceptional” – setting the scene for “a punch in the mouth”.
    If I was Putin and believed what Col. Lang believes, then it should not be impossible for him to give us quite a surprise.

  9. Christian Chuba says:

    I believe your analysis to be correct, the problem of course is that lack of an overarching strategy can lead to chaos by well meaning subordinates or license by a subordinate to take some license.
    His speech on ‘National Security Strategy’ was a buffet of contradictions. There is an Op-ed in the NYT claiming that it upends 70 yrs of established U.S. foreign policy, he was obviously keying off of the ‘America First’ component. I read it as a continuation of the 1990’s U.S. maintains sole super-power at all costs strategy so it is extremely consistent with previous Administrations.
    So what is a military guy in Syria to do? Almost nothing would shock me at this point.

  10. Peter AU says:

    Understanding Trump ties in with the Whither 2018? thread. IS Trump delegating authority to like minded people with similar plans or visions? Trump appointees share
    a pro Israel stance and a blind hatred of Iran.

  11. I agree with your assessment. It’s unfortunate that Trump, Mattis and the short-thinkers at CENTCOM and CIA all have an unhealthy fixation on regime change in Iran. Pompeo established an Iran Mission Center. The old Iran Task Force (ITF) must have been discarded somewhere along the way.

  12. steve says:

    This is pretty much the management style I use. I have worked under a number of people who use this style. Where it does not work well is when the person in charge does not know the area they are managing very well. They become too dependent upon a few people for advice. They don’t really know when to step in and intercede. When they do, they are likely to provide bad leadership. Take Mattis, who has good leadership skills, and put him in ,say, a retail orgnaization, and I would not expect him to perform well.

  13. Speaking of Iran, Alexander Mercouris at The Duran hits us with a two-fer of excellent analyses.
    First, on Iran, he minimizes the meaning of the current protests:
    No regime change in Iran (analysis of the current protest wave)
    It appears that December 30 is the day pro-government marches are held annually and this year problems with the economy – including a 40% rise in the price of eggs (which the government is going to try to ameliorate) – has triggered counter-demonstrations. But so far there is no indication that the issue involves any actual dissatisfaction with the government system per se, despite what is being reported in the Western media.
    Then Alexander analyses a new development in the “Russiagate” situation:
    Crisis for Mueller: Lindsey Graham calls for new Special Counsel to investigate Trump Dossier and FBI
    Senator Graham, a long time opponent of Trump, is so disturbed by the apparent conspiracy in the FBI to target Trump that he wants a new Special Counsel appointed to look into it.
    As an aside, there is a rumor going around – and I stress that as far as I can see, it is a unsupported assertion by an unknown conspiracy theorist, so make of that what you will – that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz hired the MS-13 criminal gang to assassinate DNC staffer Seth Rich for being the leaker of the DNC emails to Wikileaks.
    I found this – frequently funny – video by one Lionel (who appears on RT’s Crosstalk occasionally and who is in fact Michael William Lebron, a radio and Youtube host) – which covers the source of this rumor by one QAnon, allegedly some IC insider.
    New York Magazine has a story attempting to debunk this as well:
    The Storm Is the New Pizzagate — Only Worse
    Lionel’s video is worth watching throughout – for the trippy vocabulary if nothing else. I agree with him that “my alarm bells are ringing” about the Wasserman-Schultz charge since it appears be nothing by an unsupported assertion. But the rest of it does seem to match with my opinion of the DNC leak – although I wasn’t aware of the (alleged) part that Eric Schmidt appears to have played in it.
    The bottom line: It does appear that the whole Russiagate thing may be backfiring against those who promoted it in the first place. Just how far it might backfire is unclear at this point.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Me too but I have the annoying habit of asking “how do you know that?” pl

  15. “when the person in charge does not know the area they are managing very well”
    Particularly true in the case of Trump, who doesn’t know much of anything about the world but manipulating people and localities for cash extraction. This has led to 4 corporate bankruptcies and a smaller and smaller set of U.S. business associates willing to deal with him, until he finally began to rely upon the Wild West atmosphere of new Moscow — and Russian money launderers, a mistake which may finally bring him to justice after decades of declaring that he “couldn’t remember” in thousands of U.S. lawsuits.
    Problem for U.S. policy is that most of the people in the world refused to be manipulated into deals with a showbiz psychopath. Luckily his influence will be alleviated somewhat by the U.S. constitutional system.
    But basically the U.S. will be treading water for 4 years or 8 years while China and Europe gain technological superiority and gain influence in global trade standards. U.S. citizens will start to lose standard of living, comparatively. It’s already beginning happening in consumer electronics. In 5 or 10 years a poor village in Africa may have faster internet and cable than many people in the U.S. It’s a shame.

  16. ked says:

    I think those of us who’ve pursued management as a profession have learned our own natural style and over time learned to leaven that with influences / input from alternative approaches. We can do so both by education & staff selection. It’s pretty clear Trump is neither self-correcting or trainable (& I do not expect many would be at his age). Having a senior staff member of similar style, even if more trained, introduces greater risk of failures rooted-in or magnified in mgmt – if only because of style weaknesses reinforced at the highest levels. In today’s DoD with complex hierarchies and rigorous careerism, the combo you have described makes for one of those classic, “why didn’t they see this obvious problem!” future retrospective analysis. Let’s hope we miss the bullet, or that it is of small calibre and the target (if one is actually aimed-at) irrelevant.

  17. ked says:

    You make a very good point. Wouldn’t it be decent to just tell the troops that “You are defending the Empire at the Limes Arabicus.” ?

  18. J says:

    It appears Trumps sensitive spot is criticisms of his kids involvement in the running of his administration. Trump just went nuclear on former aide Bannon criticisms.
    Furious Trump Responds To “Pretender” Bannon: “He Has Lost His Mind”

  19. Mark Logan says:

    I agree, just want to add that Trump himself once said he thought he would handle the “smoke and mirrors” aspects of the job..implying that was all he thought he would have to handle. I attribute that to his entertainment industry background and a lack of a detailed, coherent vision of what he wanted to do as POTUS beyond enriching himself.
    At least he prevented the election of the Queen of the Borg. It can be better to have no plan than it is to have bad one, sometimes. 😉

  20. jayinbmore says:

    This is a common style in my industry (including where I work). In my observation it works incredibly well with motivated people who share the “company vision”. It also tends to work better for projects that are relatively short (3 years or less). Otherwise large organizations will tend to devolve into political turf wars rather than advancing the project.

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