Advice for Trump: The art of political decision-making

All political leaders have to make tough decisions and announcements on controversial issues. They often have to lead initiatives that aren’t popular with everyone. But making and announcing the right decision, while important, is only a part of successful positioning on big issues.

Making decisions is not something that Pres. Trump does very well. He tends to shoot from the hip and make decisions precipitously. He doesn’t inform the various stakeholders and often surprises even his own Cabinet and staff. He does little of the groundwork needed to make and announce big decisions.

The most recent big example of Trump’s decision-making methodology was his surprise announcement about the United States pulling out of Syria. That surprised everyone and was the final straw for his secretary of defense, who resigned.

When I worked for Gov. Mike Leavitt about a hundred years ago, we developed a 50/50 rule stating that only 50% of the success of a political decision or big announcement is determined by the intrinsic correctness of the decision. The other 50% of success is how the decision or announcement is made – whose advice is sought before finalizing the decision, how much support is pulled together, who is informed in advance of the public announcement, whether stakeholders are fully engaged, and the timing and circumstances of the announcement.

Big decisions and big announcements should not be made in a vacuum or without a lot of planning on how to roll it out. Generating support in advance, determining the right timing and setting, deciding who should be informed, how opponents are treated, and what follow-up is necessary, are all crucial components of a successful announcement or initiative. It is really hard work to do all of that, but absolutely necessary, especially for a highly controversial decision.

If those steps are followed, then even those who strongly disagree with the position will feel that they at least had a chance to be heard, that the leader carefully weighed both sides, and that they were properly notified in advance. They will then be much less likely to fight the decision.

Leavitt made a lot of very difficult things look easy because he worked so hard to build broad coalitions for his big decisions and initiatives.

I actually like a lot of Trump’s decisions. But he would be far more effective if he followed the 50/50 rule. Trump is Trump, of course, so he will never follow this advice. But he should.