Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Welcome to Pit Bull Management Style

It a pretty old technique, one that has permeated Hollywood studios and talent agencies for decades. It’s called the “pit bull” theory of management, and it is predicated on keeping managers on their toes, competitive as well as profoundly insecure and deeply dependent. Give two people the same job… just give those jobs a different label… and see who survives and thrives. Encourage in-fighting. Dump the loser. In the bankruptcy/turnaround world, hire managers whose values and culture are completely the opposite of the company they are about to take over.
Hire a manager who sends an underlying threat-survival message to all below him (occasionally “her”) on the corporate hierarchy. We are looking to keep “winners” and fire “losers” is the new reality. Fire a few for effect. Reward those who are willing to turn on those around them. Play it close to the vest; don’t give underlings too much information – make them rely on you. When one gets a bit arrogant and uppity, under the guise of a promotion, move him or her to another position where they are less entrenched… or just get rid of them, promoting a grateful and now super-loyal junior manager to take over.
According to psychologists, intermittent reinforcement/reward motivates the most. Consistent rewards do not. So guess what, pit bull management buffs, inconsistent but intermittent reinforcement, accompanied by occasional ego slams, humiliations and rebukes, is an essential part of pit bull management. Instability is good. Keeping executives on their toes, looking over their shoulders is good. Changing direction, the rules and the playing field, shaking stuff up just because, helps keeping execs giving their all. Change the inner circle from time to time. Let people know everything they do is being measured and monitored. After all, workers become what they are measured to do.
Does any of this sound familiar? Remember any of this from any reality shows that have gained popularity over the past few years? Like The Apprentice? “You’re fired!” “Loser!” For those who complain that Donald J. Trumps transition is muddled and conflicted, seemingly without direction of consistency, so he must not know what he is doing… well, that transition is in fact muddled and conflicted, seemingly without direction of consistency, but Donald Trump knows exactly what he is doing. It is his management style, and we just better get used to it. It will define the executive branch of the federal government for his entire term.
Chris Christie rises, then falls, then reappears. Rudy Giuliani is a sure thing for Secretary of State. Loyal, loud and brash. But then former-Trump opponent and former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, steps in… as most of the loyal Trump forces chime in, particularly his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, to kill that choice. But Trump slams her in his merry destabilizing effort. Meanwhile, son-in-law (Ivanka’s husband), Jared Kushner, becomes Trump’s “eye in the sky” watching over his father-in-law’s retinue, the ultimate monitor with an equal proclivity to punish those who have crossed him or his family. 
To make those around him shudder and quiver with fear, many of his appointments and nominees are making the federal agencies they will head wince with dread. Here are a few of those choices:
“As Trump now begins the process of staffing his administration, his pick to head the transition team at the EPA, Myron Ebell, offers more insight into the future of U.S. climate policy… Ebell, a leading contrarian of the scientific consensus on global warming, leads environmental and energy policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian advocacy group financed in part by the fossil fuel industry. Ebell also helps chair the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group which describes its mission as ‘dispelling the myths of global warming.’ He’s been described as ‘enemy #1’ to the climate change community, and his own bio highlights how he has been named a ‘climate criminal’ by Greenpeace.
“Ebell has been instrumental in crafting a national strategy challenging research showing that global warming is both man-made and real. The action plan, drawn up in 1998, said victory would be achieved when the public recognized ‘uncertainties in climate science.’ As head of the EPA transition, Ebell will play a leading role in choosing personnel and shaping the future of government agencies that deal with environmental and climate policy.” PBS.org, November 14th. Bye bye Paris accord. The U.S. will be one of the few nations to disavow man-induced climate change. But wait, there’s so much more.
“Stephen Bannon, who will be the chief strategist in the White House, is not a cable talking head, but he ran [conservative platform] Breitbart until August and he had his own radio show.” Washington Post, November 29th. Bannon is a darling of the extreme white Christian supremacist movement – known as the “Alt Right” – sending fear through equal justice/human rights advocates everywhere. That appointment will destabilize for sure.
Alabama Senator, ultra-right-wing-conservative, Jeff Sessions is Trump’s choice for Attorney General. When then-President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to the federal bench in 1986, concern about some pretty racist statements quickly quashed that appointment. Talk about changing the culture at the Department of Justice: For starters, forget about aggressive protection of civil rights, and of voting rights in particular. Mr. Sessions has called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a ‘piece of intrusive legislation.’ Under him, the department would most likely focus less on prosecutions of minority voter suppression and more on rooting out voter fraud, that hallowed conservative myth. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Sessions brought voter-fraud charges against three civil rights workers trying to register black voters in rural Alabama. The prosecution turned up 14 allegedly doctored ballots out of 1.7 million cast, and the jury voted to acquit.
“Forget, also, any federal criminal-justice reform, which was on the cusp of passage in Congress before Mr. Trump’s ‘law and order’ campaign. Mr. Sessions strongly opposed bipartisan legislation to scale back the outrageously harsh sentences that filled federal prisons with low-level drug offenders. Instead, he called for more mandatory-minimum sentences and harsher punishments for drug crimes.” New York Times, November 18th. Anyone out there a member of a minority worried about equal justice?
For all those who have benefited under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) – almost 20 million Americans – who are wondering if they will still have coverage as Congress debates the “repeal and replace” mantra, Trump’s choice for head of Health and Human Services has to be deeply troubling. Trump selected Tom Price, a six-term GOP Georgia congressman, one of the most outspoken Obamacare critics. He just wants it gone.
Trump has selected bankruptcy/workout investor, billionaire Wilbur Ross, to be his Commerce Secretary. Bankruptcy investors have to be the meanest pit bulls anywhere, callous to the layoffs, prior investor losses, creditor claims their takeovers almost always create… all to line the pockets of the new investors coming to fix the damaged company they are taking over. And Mr. Ross and his company have a checkered past, not unlike that of Mr. Trump himself. “In August, Ross’ firm agreed to reimburse investors $11.8 million and pay a fine of $2.3 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into the company’s misappropriation of fees… Investors in WL Ross’ fund were wrongly assessed the fees from 2001 to 2011, the SEC found.” New York Post, November 15th. Ross paid the fine and admitted no wrongdoing. Would you feel warm and fuzzy if you were working at Commerce? Think of all those trade agreements Mr. Trump wants to kill.
Amid suggestions that perhaps the entire Department of Education should be disbanded and that all educational matters should be remanded to and funded solely by the individual states, Mr. Trump’s choice for Education Secretary, another billionaire, is Betsy DeVos, someone with an inherent bias against public education itself. “DeVos [is] chair of the national pro-school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children... The organization has fought to preserve Florida’s voucher policies, including a 15-year-old tax-credit scholarship program that lets low-income children attend private schools.” Politico.com, November 23rd.
School vouchers seriously undermine public schools, since voucher money comes directly out of public school budgets. And despite the statements that these vouchers offer disadvantaged students better schools, it is precisely this lower socio-economic segment that is completely unprepared to deal with the complexity of school evaluation, applications and selection. The voucher system benefits almost exclusively those much higher on the food chain.
This list of intentionally unsettling appointments will continue. Contradictions may puzzle Trump critics, but they will continue to delight and amuse Mr. Trump and his even-more-conservative Vice President, Michael Pence. The problem with running government with what are fundamentally business values is that the goal of business, maximizing investor profits, is not the metric of a successful government. The stakeholders in government are not shareholders; they are people, many of them hanging on by a slender thread, feeling unrepresented and marginalized. They are not part of the 1% that will receive almost 97% of Trump’s tax cuts; they depend on the government services Mr. Trump will extinguish as their lifeline. But welcome to Trump-world… and it may be one of the unfriendiest places on earth… particularly for those under-educated, under- or unemployed white rust belt and coal workers hoping for a miracle that Trump-world simply is not built to provide.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we really need to understand that what seems disorganized and conflicted is actually at the heart of the way Donald Trump intends to run the United States during his tenure… get used to it!

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