White House Chiefs of Staff & WWII Tactics

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“One must be a good butcher,” said William Gladstone, who served as Great Britain’s Prime Minister in the late 1800s. Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Sherman Adams, was known as The Abominable “No” Man.

And President Trump’s new Chief of Staff, four-star Marine General John Kelly, is taking fire for cutting off access to the Oval Office. For saying, “No.”

He’s also drawn attention for vetting all the materials and proposals that reach the President’s desk. That may make him unpopular, but every president needs this if he’s going to get anything done.

Business guru Peter Drucker wrote that this information-refining process. “[A leader’s] most important role,” he noted, “is to say no to proposals … that are not completely … worked out.”

General Kelly’s management style has been honed through a lifetime military career. Will it make the White House more effective?

Read the entire article: https://stream.org/white-house-chief-of-staff-john-kelly-tactic-won-wwii/

Be sure to comment below

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22 Responses

  1. Jack Yoest says:

    This article is required reading for my students at The Catholic University of America

    • Marie Fitzpatrick says:

      President Trump’s Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, did a great job at following Completed Staff Work. As described in the previous video, the Chief of Staff and President should have a direct and substantial relationship within the Oval Office. There should not be others interfering with their decisions, but instead, the Chief should be there to tell the President the best course of action. As described in the article, President George H. W. Bush was able to solve a foreign policy crisis through Completed Staff Work. He understood that he and his team had the same goal. Through anticipation, they could make important decisions efficiently which enabled President Bush to be confident in his decisions as he created strong relationships with his team and especially, his Chief of Staff.
      Kelly understands that to get things done and for President Trump to make the best decisions, all that comes to his desk should first go through Kelly. General John Kelly’s idea of keeping a closed-door policy on the oval office enables President Trump and their team to create relationships and increase efficiency. Through anticipation, General Kelly can understand what President Trump expects and allow him to make quick but well-thought-out decisions. Completed Staff work enables President Trump and General John Kelly to build a strong relationship where they can trust each other and Kelly can anticipate what Trump will do to meet the President’s goals.

    • Matt DiSanto says:

      After reading the article about Chief of Staff John Kelly and how he used the same tactics that won WWII, it is evident that the Chief of Staff holds a crucial position and has a major impact on the President of the United States. As Chief of Staff, Kelly was hired to manage the staff and not the president. This means that he was in charge of scheduling the presenter and delivering the decision-memo to the president. There is no time to be wasted for the President with this method. It is crucial that the staff anticipates and offers a worked out and finished form of a proposal to the boss, in this case the President, so he can make the right decision based off of the information provided. A prime example of this in action is when President George H.W. Bush was asleep and a foreign policy crisis arose. Not panicking, his chief of staff constructed a group with a right course of action, woke up the President and proposed the timely recommendation. The President agreed and went back to sleep. The strategy worked out and the team solved the crisis. With the help of the Chief of Staff and the strategy of Completed Staff Work, it can help lighten the load for the President and can be way more effective, like it was in WWII.

    • Luke Fahy says:

      There were many points in the article that I found very intriguing. A point that really stood out to me was the part pertaining to the staff of the late former president, George H.W. Bush. There was a rebellion brewing against the presidential palace in the Philippines. Once the United States received word of this, a plan of action was required. John Sununu who was The Chief of Staff at the time. John and the National Security Advisor concocted a plan that they considered to be the best course of action. All that was needed was the presidents seal of approval. This is a perfect display and a prime example of what completed staff work should resemble. The manager is only meant to be the decision maker, while the employees should be completing all of the grunt work. That is why the example listed above is perfect. The president was only tasked with approving the already drafted up plan. This course of action allows for an organization to be run at peak efficiency. It enables the manager to focus strictly on the decision making process. This allows him to do his job to the fullest potential. If the President had to help with creating the plan, he would be unable to only focus on the most important part, the decision.

  2. It is interesting to read about the tactics that lead to a good outcome. One of the main tactics is having the power and courage to say no. saying no to someone most importantly a political staff that has to execute an agenda has to be something tricky if you don’t have courage. Being a successful leader is having the ability to say no when it has to be said and be the bearer of news even if they’re bad. Something that’s mentioned in the article was how Marine General John Kelly, who was President Trump’s chief of staff. Was known for vetting all proposals and materials that reach the president’s desk. The thing is that he did this because he was doing what had to be done. He was saying not all of these materials and proposals even if it made him look bad, but the sole reason was that this is what every president needs if he wants his agenda to be executed and get all of it done.

  3. Amanda Johnson says:

    I found several points throughout this article to be really interesting. One of the most interesting though was the story at the end about the staff of former president, George H.W. Bush. The Philippines were about to face an uprising from the rebels within the country against the presidential palace. The United States caught wind of this news and began to think of how to take action. The Chief of Staff at the time, John Sununu, deliberated with the National Security Advisor and ultimately made a decision about what they thought would be a best plan of action. All that was left to be done was wake the president up and receive his approval. This is a perfect example of what Completed Staff Work should look like. The staff should go to the manager with a final product and just allow him to decide, yes or no. The President did not have to think of any details or rework a drafted plan. It was completed and straight to the point. When work gets done in this manner, organizations are most efficient. It enables the manager to have the time to do their job well, which is to make decisions. If the staff came to President Bush with a plan which was only partially thought out, it would have put a lot more on his plate and taken a lot more time. Instead, they were able to take action quickly and effectively.

  4. Dominic Decker says:

    This article is great to read in helping with the understanding of Completed Staff Work. Moreover, for Completed Staff Work to be successful, there always needs to be a person who is communicating with the boss. With this, communication has to be honest. There always has to be the person who either tells the boss what they need to hear (positive or negative) or the person that says no. “One must be a good butcher”, is a quote that significantly stuck out to me that describes this communication. A good butcher cuts away what’s unnecessary and gets to the good stuff. President Trump’s new Chief of Staff, Marine General John Kelly, is a great example of that communication. Being able to cut out what is unnecessary and get to the important facts and details allows for effective decision-making. This also allows for a building of trust and confidence. When leaders can say no and tell the truth, trust and confidence are established between leaders and staff. Trust allows for leaders to build relationships, which is an extremely important part of management. Relationships allow people to anticipate what needs to be done. Anticipation is the key to completed staff work.

  5. Emily Lynn says:

    Being able to confidently turn down a proposal is a very important skill for leaders to have. I found it interesting that it was nearly controversial for General John Kelly to vet proposals. When it comes to a role as important as the President, there should be some mid-point person who is ensuring that everything in the proposal is done correctly, as to make the President’s job easier, and to ensure that the work completed was conducive to his agenda. In business, there usually is not this mid-point who will edit and vet work before handing it off to the manager. By practicing Completed Staff Work, staffers can take on this role themselves. Everything that is submitted to the boss should be complete and ready to be signed off on, so having someone else check your work would not be necessary. But, in a larger organization, like the federal government, this role is extremely important to staying on task and assuring that everything is going according to agenda. In a smaller company, the team should hold the same spirit as the Chief of Staff, and hold one another accountable to make sure that the work being given to the manager is complete and correct.

  6. Mohammad Alajmi says:

    One of the best things about the article is that it emphasizes the need to take advice from the subordinate staffs working with the leadership as allies who have shared beliefs and goals for the whole organization. Consultation with the people who have the same mission is good to propose and implement a large number of ideas. Everyone from the team must participate and contribute individually through his or her individual knowledge and not rely on other team members to complete their part. When everyone contributes for the good of the whole team, more work gets done. Taking advice, warnings, and views of subordinate staff members brings innovation and improves decision making at the leadership level.
    Leaders must have a group of people with them who have the same beliefs and goals because there are multiple things going on at one time and one person cannot manage or focus on all of them at one time. For example, the President does not have time to read the proposals or documents which are incomplete or casually written for no solid purpose and he must meet the deadlines set to complete tasks. In order to complete multiple and various tasks in an efficient way, he must give a direction in which to move and show a shared vision of success to the followers or subordinate staff members and rely on them for doing their job. A good team comprises of good individual members each one of which has the competency and capacity to complete tasks and contribute in the team in the form of continuous improvement and growth.

  7. Bailey Reilly says:

    This article reinforces the importance of Completed Staff Work. Completed Staff Work reaches all levels of management, even to the high level of the President of the United States. John Kelly, former President Trump’s Chief of Staff and a general, puts this theory of anticipating the boss’s needs to work by sorting through information that gets on to the President’s desk. By doing this, the President is able to focus on the truly important, time-sensitive matters at hand. John Kelly also stated that he “manages staff, not the President.” This is certainly true and John showed us this when he prepares presentations on already narrowed down matters for the President to either reject or accept.

    This theory of Completed Staff Work is also true for the Chief of Staff for President George Bush, John Sununu. He understood that, when an urgent matter came up, he and his colleagues would sort out all of the information to give the President a black and white picture in order for him to give his approval or disapproval. This saves time for the boss to focus on other matters, helps employees fully understand a scenario, and it leads to the most efficient outcome overall.

  8. Catalina DeMassi says:

    A Chief of Staff’s job is to be the “gatekeeper” to the president. They are meant to stop unfinished projects from reaching the president. Every idea that the president must approve should be completely finished and worked out before the president even gives a yes or no. The Chief of Staff can help with this by stopping the uncompleted projects before they reach the president. This cuts down on the president’s decision making and allows the president to focus more on projects that are ready to be implemented.
    A Chief of Staff must also be able to anticipate the needs of the president and cater to them. The president is the manager, and his Chief of Staff is his subordinate. Subordinates do the work that must be approved by the manager. They do the brainstorming and initial tasks themselves and only bring their best ideas and solutions to the manager’s desk. The Chief of Staff is essentially vetting all of the proposals for the president and bringing him the proposals that are going to be the most successful. The Chief of Staff needs to know the president almost better than he knows himself. They are a support system and therefore need to be trusted.

  9. Liam Dearing says:

    Several topics in this article were particularly intriguing to me. The anecdote at the conclusion regarding former President George H.W. Bush’s staff was one of the most fascinating. The Philippines were on the verge of a rebellion against the presidential palace by insurgents within the country. When the United States learned of this news, it began to consider how to respond. John Sununu, the Chief of Staff at the time, debated with the National Security Advisor and finally decided on what they considered would be the best course of action. All that remained was to wake up the president and get his assent. This is an outstanding demonstration of completed staff work. The workers should provide the completed product to the management and simply let him decide whether or not to accept it. The President did not have to consider any specifics or alter an already written strategy. It was finished and to the point. Organizations are most efficient when work is completed in this manner. It gives the management the time he or she needs to accomplish their job successfully, which is to make choices. If the staff had presented President Bush with a strategy that was only half thought through, it would have added a lot more to his plate and taken a lot longer. Rather, they were able to respond rapidly.

  10. Archer Rymiszewski says:

    As Chief of Staff to the President of the United States it is your duty to be the “No” Man. It is also important for the Chief of Staff to examine specific documents and either put them in the president’s hand or push them away. This gives the president more time to make decisions and not worry about every single thing that is being brought up. General Kelly, President Trump’s Chief of Staff is using the tactic of Completed Staff Work to create the most effective way of the decision-making process. We can think of this idea as the boss making the decisions while the staff anticipates what is to come. It is important for the Chief of Staff to understand problems that may need to be solved in the future and anticipate the best way of attacking that problem or problems. Being a Chief of Staff also means gaining the trust of your President. You must create a strong relationship to create confidence in what is to come and what needs to be done.

  11. Mark Cheffers says:

    The Chief of Staff is the most unsung hard worker in the Oval Office. Most are not even aware what the position does, but the fate of administration can rest on his shoulders almost as much as the president himself. He is the gate keeper, the only one who knows the President inside and out. This leaves him in a perilous position between the POTUS and an onslaught of news, requests etc.. If the chief of staff is competent he will make the President’s life much easier by taking the decisions he needs to make and narrowing it down to a reasonable workload. On top of that there needs to be anticipation of what the President needs to hear so that information can be delivered at the correct time. If the Chief of Staff does not work throughly and understand the president things will get hectic. The President’s life is stressful as is, but to mitigate that the COS offers the President only Completed Staff Work. That way he has clear decisions to make and there will be no time wasted on further figuring out the issue.

  12. Luca Mamula says:

    I found this article extremely informative on the different aspects of Completed Staff Work. It stressed the ideology that staff members must first detect any problem before the boss does. Upon discovering this problem staff members must work together to form a solution that their boss will approve. The only job of the boss is to make the final say in the decision-making process. There should be no extra work that the boss has to do besides approve or disapprove the solution that was brought to him/her. A great example of this is explained at the end of the article, where President Bush has such confidence in the wisdom and judgment of his team that he was able to sign off on the decision right out of his sleep. His staff members noticed that rebels were threatening to attack the Philippine presidential palace. Their group committed to a course of action, and only after they had a solution did they wake up the president to get his approval.

  13. Jack Kouba says:

    Before reading this article I was completely ignorant to the importance of the role of the Chief of Staff. As a young voter that has no experience in the political field, my limited view of politics is centered around the president. Although I understand that his job is extremely difficult and stressful I never knew that the Chief of Staff was the key to a productive presidency. After reading this article I now understand that the president has to say yes to everybody and do his best to make everybody happy. Although impossible, his job is made easier by the Chief of Staff as he can be the “bad guy.” It is imperative that the chief of staff understand the fundamental dynamic of the boss and staff relationship. The boss makes decisions (president) and the staff anticipates (chief of staff). One thing from the article that really stuck with me and helped me begin to understand the importance of the role of the chief of staff was the hourglass metaphor. On one end of the hour glass is everybody with an issue that they want the president to address. On the other side of the hourglass is the president and all of his already ongoing responsibilities. The skinny passageway connected to both sides of the hourglass is the Chief of Staff. He decides what the president needs to hear most and what is most important. This role is extremely underrated and extremely valuable.

  14. Will Turgeon says:

    A Chief of Staff’s role to the president is similar to the relationship of employee-manager regarding CSW and our class discussions. We often heard that the Chief of Staff serves as the “Gatekeeper” to the president. He has to make sure the president only hears what he needs to hear, good or bad. For example, the Chief of Staff must inform the president if something is completed and ready to be presented to the public, the president will confirm or deny whatever the Chief of Staff brings to the table. On the other hand, the Chief of Staff has to deliver bad news, something that the president may not want to hear on a particular day. We talk a lot about anticipation and managing your manager in this class. After reading this article, I see similarities between the relationships we have discussed. The president serves as the boss/manager while the Chief of Staff is his employee/subordinate. The work of the Chief of Staff makes the four year tenure for the president a little more bearable. These two see each other almost everyday, their relationship is important.

  15. Pat Buckley says:

    After reading this article, I know have a greater understanding of the importance of how the staff anticipates problems. It is one thing to jump out in front of a problem before the boss sees it, but it can be considered even more important that a solution is brought to the boss by their staff. As mentioned in the article, the Chief of Staff acts somewhat like an hourglass, passing information from the President to their staff, and the staff to their President. This is essential because the Chief of Staff can dictate what the President hears, and what time and energy they spend on certain things. The Chief of Staff must also be able to be the bearer of bad news. But as mentioned earlier, the staff should do their best to come up with a solution before the President even gets the news. In the article the story of President Bush is mentioned where he woke up from sleeping to make a decision on a recommendation provided by his staff. He thought about the recommendation for a few moments, signed it, and went back to sleep. This is a perfect example of Completed Staff Work in effect, where the staff makes the life of the boss easier.

  16. Meg Higgins says:

    The Chief of Staff is one of the most important people in the administration. Without the chief of staff, the president would be bogged down with information and would not be able to process the important things. One of the most interesting things to be was in the Obama office when Obama and his COS would go for a daily walk to debrief the day. It is always important that they’re on the same page with the president and that the president knows what’s going on. This allowed them to have uninterrupted time together. The job of the COS is not to only provide the good news but also the bad news. They also need to present it in a manner that is clear and concise and is actionable for the president. If the COS is not able to deliver the bad news then the president would never really know what is going on. I also found the dynamic between the COS and the first family quite interesting. The COS has to make a conscious effort to have a nice balance with the president and his family.

  17. Luke N. says:

    The Chief of Staff for the president of the United States possesses surprising amounts of power. The “gatekeeps” projects and people as to not waste the president’s time with unfinished and/or useless projects. Kelly employed completed staff work during the Trump presidency in an effort to streamline the president’s workload. Though completed staff work is often thought of as a concept most directly applied to business it began as a template for use in the government and remains in use to this day. He acted as a sort of “No Man” that shut down unnecessary projects and let pass ones that fit the standard of being worth the president’s time. Historically the role of the chief of staff has appeared different across different presidents. Kelly even received heat for the rigorous vetting process he puts on all the materials and proposals before sending them on to the president’s desk, suggesting his approach to the chief of staff position was not the expected norm. With this sort of power the chief of staff is a formable member of any administration. One can not easily overestimate the importance of selecting a good person for the job. The Bush administration utilized completed staff work to great success for the party, and Kelly hoped to do the same for Trump.

  18. Hisham Alqasoumi says:

    It is no doubt that the role that Kelly played as chief of staff at the White House under the presidency of Mr. Donald Trump was spectacular. His key strategy was to gain control over the information that gets to the president. He assured it that the information provided to the president needs to be flow through him in order to assure that the president would get relevant information for making good decisions. This link has addressed the complexities and the responsibility that the chief of staff holds in order to prepare the president to make reliable decisions and for that he need to be strategic enough to analyze the seriousness of the issue or problem. With that, it also addressed the level of trust and the confidence that the president place to the person in-charge so that he allot the authority to manage the president’s desk. Therefore,the strategy of limiting the information to the president and to assure that the information pass through proper channels to assure that he remain away from the conflicting reactions and decisions. This link provided the positive side of his role and intelligence that makes him capable of managing the President’s office and his work decisions in an effective way.

  19. Michael Velasquez says:

    This article points out the significance of completed staff work. It demonstrates that the concept applies to all levels and categories of management, even on the presidential level. The president already has a lot on their plates, to be able to get things done their staff should give the president brief summaries and suggestions of actions to take, all the president should be able to do with effective completed staff work is to be able to approve decisions. As the article gave an example, previous president Busch’s staff came up with a recommendation, Busch approved it and then went back to sleep. If this did not occur then nothing would be done. If there was no completed staff work, then Busch may have needed to stay up nights and have no rest in order to get through some of the material on his plate, yet when he is exhausted, he would be too tired to even get through all the work. This is why his staff is there to be able to ensure he can do all the work and not over-work himself.

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