This week, Donald Trump engaged in a similar exercise of distraction only, in his case, on a global scale. With a faltering agenda, slumping job numbers, and an increasingly aggressive Congressional investigation into possible collusion with the Russians, the President needed to "change the channel" (an apt metaphor for a leader who gets his briefings from Fox News). The result was a two-pronged military show of strength. First was a generally ineffective air strike on Syria, destroying some fuel supplies and a few parked planes. The second was to send a naval task force towards the Korean Peninsula. Russia was forgotten, the health care fiasco was shoved aside, and the latest executive orders stripping away digital privacy were squeezed off of the front page. The other event which got sidelined was his historic meeting with the Chinese leadership. (At his club of course! Maybe the White House could become an Air BNB destination, it seems to be empty most of the time!) The "positive and productive" meeting produced nothing of consequence, but who cares? After all, 59 cruise missiles (at $1 million CDN a pop) were lobbed on to an airfield and did such minimal damage that the Syrian airforce was back launching raids from it the next day. The Chinese summit was pushed off of the front pages and replaced by eye-catching photos of things blowing up.
So, for a weekend, the failures and shortfalls were ignored and Trump got a much personally needed pat on the back.
Heads often fall into the same trap. Many new Heads come in with highly hyped agendas for "change". As noted earlier, often they are things that they had picked up on as "priorities" in the interview process, or sometimes they were simply initiatives that they had put into place elsewhere and were hoping to replicate in their new school. More often than not, new leaders present slogans rather than strategies. And, while it is easy to proclaim a simplistic truism about a complex issue, or protracted process of needed change, it is much more difficult to hit the ground running in an organization about which you only had a generalized and superficial understanding walking in the door. The result is usually one of the two scenarios which have epitomized the Trump Presidency. The Head either goes off half-cocked and issues a series of "executive orders" which fall flat on their faces, or she or he announces exciting initiatives which then get obscured in their implementation by the constant introduction of the next "exciting" change. Board members, parents and even sometimes faculty and staff can often get confused by this fast pace of announced initiatives and assume (wrongly) that the last objective had been attained and that the school was striding to the next great accomplishment.
Leadership by distraction only lasts for so long before someone begins to ask pointed questions about actual progress and demonstrative outcomes. If the Head doesn't have a good answer and a track record of achievement to point to, it's time that she or he "prepares three envelopes"!
More about that next post...