Tone comes from the top

Listen to the podcast segment "All the President's criminals" from the August 25, 2018 episode

One of the concepts that has always made an impression on me is the effect that leadership or management has on setting the tone for an entire organization. The tone always comes from the top.

Now, there are certainly organizations where management pays lip service to the idea of listening to the "bottom of the pyramid" -- and there are even examples of smart organizations where they actually *do* pay serious attention to what front-line workers think and notice and do.

But even when that is the case, the tone that insists on listening to those workers, and on giving credence to what they say? It comes from the top. Every organization has a culture, and whether the organization and the culture survive depends on what happens at the highest levels.

As Charlie Munger once put it, "In my experience, the rate of failure at changing a corporate or organizational culture is 100%."

Culture comes from the top.

For all the emphasis that has been put, then, on President Trump's experience as a businessperson, the behavior of the people inside his organizations reflects the tone set at the top.

This week, a jury of his peers found Paul Manafort, who was President Trump's campaign chairman, guilty on eight charges of criminal financial fraud.

Not a special prosecutor. Not a judge. A jury of his peers.

The same day, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and confessed to making illegal payments.

This was a guilty plea, not a charge or an allegation.

Nobody knows everything about what took place within the President's orbit. But tone comes from the top.

It remains my best guess that the President himself probably didn't initiate any criminal conduct. It sounds like he went along with some of it. And I am quite sure he tried to cover up a lot of it.

But it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to believe that the way he operated his business interests, and the way he operated his campaign, created an environment in which breaking conventions, breaking rules, and breaking laws looked like behavior that was worth the risk.

Tone comes from the top.

As I said in December 2017: "[H]e should welcome the chance to have the bad apples culled from the bunch, through a rigorous investigation of any wrongdoing around his campaign and his administration. His incessant complaining only makes it look as though he wants to protect the crooked rather than purge them."

Instead, again this week, the President turned to Twitter and resumed his claims about a "witch hunt".

Mr. President: When you become aware of criminals in your orbit, you should welcome the chance to purge them. Purge them ruthlessly. Without compromise. Without excuse. Without mercy. Thank everyone who helps you clean house. Praise those who help you enforce the law. And set a tone that says further lawbreaking will not be forgiven.

That's the tone a lawful person would set from the top.

 
Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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