This weekend saw an upheaval few of us could have predicted in response to President Trump’s ban on immigration. From the President’s point of view it was making good on a promise to make America safer. For many others it was un-American, unconstitutional, and a troubling step away from the kind of country we want to be.

Trump is not the first authority figure to have his intention smashed by backlash. It happens every time someone attempts to address a complex problem with a simple, seemingly straight-forward action. Trump has since issued an explanation that his intent was to only make us safe unlike our friends in Europe and that his label never was religious – only security related. Once again the facts don’t support the strategy – since 2001 of the 161 people charged with plotting to attack the US only 11 came from the listed countries. Security in Europe is also a complex problem featuring border issues, security as well as deep racial bias that fuels enmity on both sides.

While campaigning for office, candidates often make promises – nearly always exactly what their authorizers want to hear. Criticizing government and running government are two different activities. President Trump is learning this truth one executive order at a time. The good news we have a set of checks and balances in America that keep us from veering too far off the path. The bad news is the path is unclear. The most troubling of all is what is going to happen to the frustration in the system when people realize President Trump can’t or won’t solve their problems and restore the “good old days.” Then we will be in serious trouble!

A few thoughts for moving ahead –

Diagnosis is the most important leadership skill. Let’s decide which problem we are solving first. Leaping to action brings the kind of collateral damage we saw over the weekend that not only fails to solve the problem, it may in fact make things worse (in this case – less safe.)

Two, finding partners is one way to ensure you are acting systemically. The President is risking the alliances available to him by asserting he, and he alone will solve our problems.

Measure what matters – how will this or any step we take make us safer? How would we know? What are the measures that indicate we are making progress not just producing a new variant of the same problem? And what will this approach cost us that may be equally precious to us?

The immigration ban is the highest profile issue – but this scenario is played out daily in organizations. If you are in charge, ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:

  1. What keeps happening that needs to stop? What needs to start happening? What is happening that we need to ensure will continue to happen?
  2. Who are the people with the problem? How can we join up to solve the problem we face together?
  3. Which metrics that matter to us best we keep an eye on to make progress and not just change for change sake?

Perhaps these questions would have helped the President get more of what he wanted over the weekend? My guess is they were never asked. He is under a ton of pressure to deliver. What’s your excuse?