Donald Trump: A boss who demands extreme loyalty

President-elect Donald Trump meeting with US President Barack Obama (not pictured) during an update on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House, on Nov 10, 2016, in Washington, DC.
President-elect Donald Trump meeting with US President Barack Obama (not pictured) during an update on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House, on Nov 10, 2016, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • His style is to check every invoice, examine every light fixture. That will have to end, pronto.

He has entrusted his operations to a tight, tiny circle of executives, a handful at most. That circle will expand, greatly.

He has always demanded round-the-clock work and total availability from his staff. That will fit right in.

He has always bristled - and often lashed out - when staff members push back against his decisions. That could damage his presidency.

The people who have worked most closely with Mr Donald Trump say he will bring a distinctly different style of manage- ment and leadership to the White House.

He reads little and rules by his gut. He picks people by first impressions, sometimes without even talking to them. He is laser-focused on how he is perceived and what people say about him.

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He gets frustrated and impatient... But he is relentless. When Donald puts his eye on a goal, there's no distracting him.

MS LOUISE SUNSHINE, the first executive Mr Trump hired when he started out in the real estate business

"Donald has to make a huge transition from Trump World to the United States of America," said Ms Louise Sunshine, the first executive Mr Trump hired when he started out in the real estate business. Ms Sunshine, Mr Trump's closest sidekick from 1971 to 1987, said her former boss "has to put his own needs aside - his needs for approval and acknowledgment, his inclination to use social media. He has to graduate to a huger universe. It's going to be challenging, but he will do it".

To govern a nation of 320 million people, Mr Trump will have to absorb enormous amounts of information about issues he has never confronted and controversies that blow up in moments. His former executives say that is something he does well.

"He is a quick study," said Ms Barbara Res, who spent 18 years as Mr Trump's top construction executive. "You don't have to give him a long story. He picks it right up."

But the Washington bureaucracy and Congress will have to get accustomed to a president who cannot stand long meetings and has little patience for complexity, according to Mr Trump's aides through the years.

"He will have someone read the reports for him and give them to him orally, real short," Ms Res said. "He brags that he has never read a book all the way through. He doesn't have the patience to sit in meetings... The flip side is that he can scan something and get it quickly."

"The guy doesn't read," said Mr Jack O'Donnell, who served as president of the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City at the height of Mr Trump's casino empire in the late 1980s. "He reacts to what he sees and hears in the moment; he is a poor listener."

To correct for those qualities, Mr O'Donnell said, Mr Trump learnt to delegate much of his work and give managers broad authority. But those who have worked with him say that Mr Trump's delegating requires extreme loyalty, and if anything goes amiss, the boss will explode.

"He gets frustrated and impatient," said Ms Sunshine, who said she thinks Mr Trump will quickly adapt to the vast size and scope of the federal government.

"But he is relentless. When Donald puts his eye on a goal, there is no distracting him."

Mr Trump describes his leadership style as acting as an "army of one" - relying mainly on his own judgment. In his book Think Like A Billionaire, he called himself a "screamer" who does not hesitate to berate associates. That will be nothing new in the Oval Office, where Mr Bill Clinton, for example, was often heard venting at aides who had disappointed him.

 

But Mr Trump will follow four consecutive presidents who took considerable pride in the depth of their understanding of policy details. Mr Trump, in contrast, "rarely followed a schedule and never prepared for meetings", Ms Res said. "When you brought him an issue, you had to tell him how great he was and how his way was right. But if you could get him to think your idea was really his idea, then you could usually get what you wanted."

In service of his vision, Mr Trump will outwork even the most industrious young staffer. "He will work longer hours than any president simply because he doesn't sleep," Mr O'Donnell said. "The White House staff is going to have a different kind of guy. They will see him wandering around at three or four in the morning, because that is what he does."

Mr Trump enforced loyalty by requiring top employees to sign non-disclosure agreements that limited their ability to talk about their work. "Loyalty was prized," said Mr Randal Pinkett, who won the 2005 season of Mr Trump's reality TV show, The Apprentice, and then oversaw the renovation of Mr Trump's casino properties in Atlantic City. "People who do well there are people who are willing to follow his lead and remain loyal to him."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'A boss who demands extreme loyalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe