Was the President Suckered in the “Context of Conversation”

People who become effective leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success—and avoid serious errors of judgment—through careful deliberation and preparation.  In short, their courage is calculated rather than impulsive.

Learning to take an intelligent gamble requires an understanding of what I described in HBR as the courage calculation — a method of making success more likely while avoiding rash, unproductive, or irrational behavior.

Six discrete processes make up the courage calculation: setting primary and secondary goals; determining the importance of achieving them; tipping the power balance in your favor; weighing risks against benefits; selecting the proper time for action; and developing contingency plans.

Were any of these rational steps involved in President Trump’s decisions last week to share “highly classified” information with his Russian visitors to The White House?  Had he considered the lives he would surely put in danger and the relationship with the ally who provided the highly classified information?  Did the president consider the inevitable weakening of his trustworthiness and how that would jeopardize the receipt of future classified and secret information from allies?

Leadership at its best is not about bravado or impulsivity just as it is not about inaction.  It is about considered action even when speed is crucial.  Rarely is it a solo activity as major decisions often require the advice of perceptive, informed and intelligent advisors.

National Security Advisor McMaster today stated that the president made the decision to share highly classified information in the context of the conversation — on the spot.  As such, it was not based on preparation and consideration, but was spontaneous.

It’s conceivable that he was suckered into giving away highly classified information by a tactic used in conversation called apparent self-disclosure.  One party acts as if he or she is sharing personal or private information in order to elicit reciprocal disclosure from another.  In other words, conversation depends on patterns that can be manipulated — another reason for significant preparation before meetings with potential or current adversaries.

The president promised as a candidate to increase the protections of classified information.  Instead, we’re now told he can suddenly declassify information merely because it suits the conversation at hand.  This is not leadership.  It is playing fast-and-loose with America and all it represents simply because he can.



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