When President Trump paid his respects to the Navy Seal recently killed in Yemen, it was an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership, and unite a bitterly divided country. Instead, he chose to persist in his increasingly unpredictable behavior of insults and accusations.
President Trump received several deferments that allowed him to avoid military service and continue to live a life of undeniable luxury. To my knowledge, he has never spent any meaningful time at either West Point or the Naval Academy. Therefore, despite his attendance at a New York military school when he was young, it is unlikely that he knows that as a plebe, a Naval Academy midshipman is allowed three answers when addressing an upperclassman. They are:
- “Yes sir.”
- “No sir.”
- “No excuse, sir.”
Right from the start, if something unfortunate happens, cadets and plebes are taught to accept full responsibly for the outcome of their actions: “No excuse, sir!” The word “but” is not allowed, as in “No excuse, sir, but it wasn’t my fault.” They cannot blame anything or anyone for their misfortune. It is one of the first leadership lessons they learn, and along with abiding by an honor code that says in essence “we will not lie, cheat or steal,” the most important. It is a lesson President Trump should take note of, and practice for his own good and that of our country. The president sets an example for the troops he leads — if he doesn’t accept responsibility for his actions, neither will anyone else.
Since Donald J. Trump took the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, many wondered if he would start acting more presidential. Unfortunately, it has become clear that his “pre-inauguration” behavior has not only continued, it has gotten worse.
Instead of leading the country, the president has spent an inordinate amount of time whining — via Twitter, no less — about the size of the crowds at his inauguration, bragging that his ratings as host of “Celebrity Apprentice” were better than his replacement, demonizing judges who ruled against him, accusing any member of the press who disagrees with him to be “dishonest” or “crooked,” and discounting any poll that does not show him in the best light.
As someone who has spent a career advising both governmental and organizational leaders on the importance of fair, open and honest communications, I have experienced first-hand what happens when someone fails to take responsibility for his actions. Credibility is lost. Morale drops. Productivity comes to a standstill. President Trump is a textbook case of how not to lead.
The president insists on casting blame on someone else for anything that does not go according to plan, and handily takes credit for results he had nothing to do with, as evidenced by the latest unemployment report. President Trump claimed that those numbers were the result of his efforts, when in fact, President Obama was still in office when those numbers were compiled.
President Trump does not hesitate to accept credit for something he did not do when it suits his purposes, but he is quick to cast blame when he doesn’t get his way. When President Trump’s executive immigration ban was put on hold by a U.S. judge, he lashed out at the judiciary system, and cast blame for any future terrorist attacks on the judge who issued the stay. If a CEO had demonstrated this behavior, he would have heard the very words President Trump announced each week as a television celebrity: “You’re fired”.
Hubris is a dangerous vice; when combined with naivete and narcissism, it is lethal. Unfortunately, our current president doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between leading in a democracy and ruling by fiat.
Leading can sometimes be a lonely and frustrating experience because not everyone is going to agree with you. Real leaders understand that, and accept it as a challenge. Our current president sees it as a threat.
While I doubt it was deliberate, the president even insulted our troops during his attendance at the Army-Navy game last fall when he said, “I just love the armed forces, love the folks. The spirit is so incredible. I mean, I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best football, but it’s very good.” The significance of the game was clearly lost on him.
One wonders if President Trump — who has an insatiable appetite for impulsive messaging seemingly without considering the impact of his words — will be able to exhibit the patience and wisdom necessary as the commander-in-chief. We can only hope he will exhibit the same honor, accountability, honesty, gumption, and patience that are expected of the men and women he now leads. No excuses, sir!
Ritch K. Eich, former chief of public affairs for Blue Shield of California, is the founder of Eich Associated, a management consulting firm, and is the author of three leadership books including his most recent TRUTH, TRUST + TENACITY. He is also the former board chair of Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, Thousand Oaks, and is a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve (ret). U.S. Senators Dan Coats and Richard Lugar cited him for exemplary leadership in the Congressional Record.