After that Truly Shocking Transcript in The Washington Post, Here’s the 1 Question Every Leader Must Answer Now

“Well, a lot of them are afraid to come and talk.” — President Trump, talking about his own staff.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 06 Sep 2018

After that Truly Shocking Transcript in The Washington Post, Here's the 1 Question Every Leader Must Answer Now

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Crucial question: Are people afraid of you?

It's especially important to know the answer if you're in charge of other people. Are they afraid to bring you bad news, for example? Are they afraid to be the messenger?

We're asking this now after a phone interview that Bob Woodward of The Washington Post did with President Trump recently, and that the Post put online--recording and transcript, both.

In short, it looks like the best case scenario is that some of Trump's staff are afraid of him. Here's why we say that, and why it's dangerous.

'A lot of them are afraid to come and talk"

The phone call was about Woodward's new book about the Trump administration, which is set to be released next week. Specifically, it's Trump calling Woodward to ask why Woodward didn't interview him for the book.

Woodward says he asked "six or seven" people in and around the administration to connect him with Trump, including having Kellyanne Conway, a top counselor to the president and his former campaign manager over for lunch--to press her hard to try to set up an interview.

Trump says none of the requests ever reached him. (He does later concede that at least one request did--Woodward asked Republican Senator Lindsay Graham to intercede on his behalf, and Trump admits Graham brought it up with him.)

But as for his staff, Trump explains: "Well, a lot of them are afraid to come and talk."

'It's really too bad'

A quick disclosure. I worked for Woodward a dozen years ago, as the lead assistant on two of his books (State of Denial and The Secret Man). I haven't read his new book yet, and I haven't talked with him about it.

But, I know his work ethic firsthand, and I know how careful he is with his reputation. If he says he tried "six or seven" different people to try to reach Trump while writing this book, I believe him.

Actually, from the recording it sounds like Trump believes him, too.

Also, we should acknowledge that there are at least two other explanations for why Woodward's attempts to get Trump to do an interview might have failed.

  • Perhaps Trump just didn't want to do an interview, or he thought that it wasn't in his best interests. And he's now not being truthful about never having heard the request.
  • Perhaps the staffers Woodward reached out were afraid--not afraid of Trump, but instead afraid of what Trump might say or do in an interview with the famed journalist, with a recorder running for two or three hours. And so they didn't relay the request out loyalty, rather than fear.

If that's the case, Trump had no idea.

"It's really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would've loved to have spoken to you," Trump says on the tape. "You know I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair. We'll see what happens."


Woodward's book is called Fear. It's a title taken from something Trump said in a 2016 interview with Woodward and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa:

"Real power is through respect," Trump said. "Real power is, I don't even want to use the word: 'Fear.'"

The irony is that if the fear is in his own staff, it would make the administration less powerful, less effective.

Forty years ago, experts looking at a series of airline crashes recommended pushing airlines to implement crew resource management training. In short, there were just too many crashes where the first officer or other junior crew felt unable to speak up and tell the captain about problems that they saw.

Is that part of what's happening in the White House? And setting that aside, is it what might be happening in your business?

If so, that means critical information might not be reaching you fast enough to do anything about it. And that's something that's truly worth being afraid of.

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