The Importance of A Working Staff

The Importance of A Working Staff

By

Leonard Zwelling

It is apparent by now that President Trump does not have a functioning White House staff. The press secretary is gone. The Chief of Staff is now gone. The new communications director lasted ten days. Many others have left and there are tens of vacancies throughout the federal government including the lack of a science director. No matter how rowdy Congress chooses to get on the subject of health care reform or how uncooperative the federal judiciary may be in response to Trump’s immigration policy, at least the members of the executive branch need to be on the same page. Trump should have the power to do that, but he has not been able to as yet.

Part of the problem is the president’s insistence on nepotism as the major driver in determining who he trusts. Jared Kushner is going to solve Middle East peace? I don’t think so. He can’t even fill out a disclosure form honestly. And Ivanka? Besides being born wealthy, what’s her claim to fame? Shoes? Melania has disappeared making her the first invisible first lady since Mamie Eisenhower.

The latest additions to the West Wing crew should provide us with on-going entertainment. First, there’s profanity prone Anthony Scary-Much-y who helped Reince Preibus’ stay as the Chief of Staff be the shortest in history and now his tenure as communications director was even shorter. Now there is General Kelly moving over from Homeland Security where he apparently was successful taking over as Chief of Staff, a political job being given to a general. I wonder how that’s going to work out especially since Big Tony hadn’t even gotten security clearance in time and I doubt he can win a war against a four-star general and he didn’t. Oy!

Fortunately, I suspect that Congress is about to start doing its job when it returns from recess in the fall. August will be a wash. It always is on the legislative side, but that will mean Trump will be eight months in with only Neil Gorsuch to show for his effort. Not much. Maybe now we will find out if Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell are really “leaders.”

I write all of this to remind everyone that the same things occurred in the early days of the DePinho reign and MUST NOT occur with the coming of the new president of MD Anderson.

No wives, sons, daughters or in-laws in the upper administration of the new MD Anderson.

No second-rate administrators either. Only the best and if they come from outside Texas, that’s just fine as long as they are up to the task which will be rebuilding the clinical, basic and population-based science, preserving the clinical excellence, and restoring faculty morale.

The Trump handling of the White House West Wing is instructive. My father-in-law, a world-renown pulmonary pathologist, always said you can learn from both positive and negative examples. Both Trump and DePinho are the latter.

Now a little shout out to someone who got it right in the beginning. John Mendelsohn.

Dr. Mendelsohn knew he wanted his own team in place and put good people, many from outside MD Anderson, into key roles and for five years his administration performed very well. John made hard decisions about personnel and replaced people who would not carry out his agenda. Whether or not you agreed with that agenda, he wasn’t confused and neither were those working for him.

The new president of MD Anderson would do well to follow the example that Dr. Mendelsohn set when he arrived. He went from department to department to get input from the faculty and responded by bolstering both biostatistics and pathology.

There are right ways and wrong ways to lead. The Trump and DePinho style of narcissistic blaming of everyone but themselves will not work. Creating constant turmoil is not leadership. It’s chaos and antithetical to progress, in politics and cancer care.

But first, surround yourself with a competent staff, preferably people who don’t agree with each other and don’t even agree with you on some issues, but can keep their opinions inside the president’s conference room.

Neither Trump nor DePinho could do this. And look at the mess.

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