Saturday, July 2, 2016

Donald Trump and the Five Paragraph Order

Donald Trump is often criticized in the media for being "evasive" and lacking suitable specifics for his policy proposals. As often happens with the media's chattering class, this criticism is both unfounded and unrealistic. Indeed, people outside of the media bubble recognize Donald Trump's policy statements as those of a dynamic, goal-oriented leader.

In every field of human endeavor, perhaps the principal challenge of all who desire to lead is effective communications. As former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca once observed, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." Communication requires not elevated language, not flowery language, but effective language--words that are easily understood and digested by the audience at hand. Contrary to the opinions of many in the media, Donald Trump meets Iacocca's standard for good communication.

Case in point: during the primaries, Donald Trump was often faulted for his fourth grade vocabulary (as scored by the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests). Yet fellow GOP candidate Ben Carson--medical doctor and noted neurosurgeon--only used a sixth grade vocabulary. Dr. Carson was briefly the GOP front runner and remains regarded by the GOP electorate, while Trump has secured the GOP nomination with a record popular vote despite the very large GOP primary field at the outset. Donald Trump's vocabulary might not be the stuff of Harvard, or of Yale, or any of the policy wonks either in government or in the media, but it is difficult to dispute the efficacy of his words. By the only standard that matters in a democracy--the vote totals--Donald Trump's communications have been undeniably effective.

This should surprise no one. One of the most fundamental rules of effective communication is to "have efficient vocabulary and phraseology." Henry David Thoreau's famous dictum in Walden was "Simplify, simplify." Even Albert Einstein is reputed to have suggested that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler". Simple words and phrases are more characteristic of good communication than complex words and phrases.

Donald Trump's simple rhetoric is more than just good communication of his ideas. His rhetoric is also a demonstration of good leadership. Good leaders do not merely act themselves, they act through others. Every treatise and lecture on leadership highlights the importance of delegation as a principal leadership skill. Among military leaders--for whom good leadership is quite literally a matter of life and death--communication and delegation go hand in hand
Commanders use orders to express their will and translate their decisions into actions. MCRP 5-12A, Operational Terms and Graphics, defines an order as
"A communication, written, oral, or by signal which conveys instructions from a superior to a subordinate.  In a broad sense, the term order and command are synonymous.  However, an order implies discretion as to the details of execution whereas a command does not." 
Within the US Military, the fundamental structure of command communications is the Five Paragraph Order. As the United States Marine Corps teaches officer candidates:
The purpose of the 5 paragraph order is to issue an order in a clear and concise manner by a thorough orientation of the area of operations. A 5 paragraph order gives subordinates the essential information needed to carry out the operation. The order converts the leader’s plan into action, gives direction to the efforts of his unit, and provides specific instructions to subordinate elements.
In my day job as an Information Technology consultant and entrepreneur, I have long advocated the use of this communications format as the basis for effective project planning and execution. This structure works because it is simple, but also because it is both highly modular as well as goal oriented. Its modular approach leads to effective delegation by leaving the "how" of goal achievement up to those subordinates tasked with the goal, and also allows each successive level of leadership to break down larger goals into more precise objectives, each with its own more granular Five Paragraph Order issued to subordinates. A general does not tell his troops how to capture a hill, he merely tells his officers "capture that hill"; his officers in turn relay commands to various portions of troops, giving ever more specific tasks to each lower level of command, until that single command is expanded into a detailed, flexible, yet effective plan of attack to capture said hill (for the military-minded, I will apologize for the obvious oversimplication here, trusting the basic point is still made).

When I read Donald Trump's Immigration Policy, or the text of his recent economic policy speech, I am struck by a salient feature of both--and of all his policy positions and prepared speeches: In each, he states goals and objectives. He does not describe in painstaking and wonkish detail how each objective would be achieved. He lays out what he plans to accomplish, and he states why he believes this is the right plan. There is even a rough outline of a Five Paragraph Order in his presentation--there is Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command and Control. His economic speech, for example, breaks down thus:

  • Situation
    We are thirty miles from Steel City. Pittsburgh played a central role in building our nation. The legacy of Pennsylvania steelworkers lives in the bridges, railways and skyscrapers that make up our great American landscape. 

    But our workers' loyalty was repaid with betrayal. 

    Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization - moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas.

  • Mission
    I want you to imagine how much better your life can be if we start believing in America again. 

    I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who've led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.

  • Execution
    Here are 7 steps I would pursue right away to bring back our jobs.
    One: I am going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been ratified. 

    Two: I'm going to appoint the toughest and smartest trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers. 

    Three: I'm going to direct the Secretary of Commerce to identify every violation of trade agreements a foreign country is currently using to harm our workers. I will then direct all appropriate agencies to use every tool under American and international law to end these abuses. 

    Four: I'm going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. And I don't mean just a little bit better, I mean a lot better. If they do not agree to a renegotiation, then I will submit notice under Article 2205 of the NAFTA agreement that America intends to withdraw from the deal. 

    Five: I am going to instruct my Treasury Secretary to label China a currency manipulator. Any country that devalues their currency in order to take unfair advantage of the United States will be met with sharply, and that includes tariffs and taxes. 

    Six: I am going to instruct the U.S. Trade Representative to bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the WTO. China's unfair subsidy behavior is prohibited by the terms of its entrance to the WTO, and I intend to enforce those rules. 

    Seven: If China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

  • Administration and Logistics
    We will make America the best place in the world to start a business, hire workers, and open a factory. 

    This includes massive tax reform to lift the crushing burdens on American workers and businesses. 

    We will also get rid of wasteful rules and regulations which are destroying our job creation capacity. 

    Many people think that these regulations are an even greater impediment than the fact that we are one of the highest taxed nations in the world. 

    We are also going to fully capture America’s tremendous energy capacity. This will create jobs for our workers, growth for our economy, and begin reducing our budget deficit. Hillary Clinton wants to shut down energy production, and shut down our mines and miners. I want to do the exact opposite.

  • Command and Control
    A Trump Administration will also ensure that we start using American steel for American infrastructure. 
I am not saying Donald Trump gave America economic marching orders in his speech--he did not and he does not. I am saying that Donald Trump is employing leadership-style communications strategies, that he is speaking as a leader would and should: he sets forth goals, and he states what he wants to see done. 

Following on this, we can expect that people within a Trump administration will, upon being given these objectives, devise subsidiary plans to accomplish their delegated tasks, replicating the process to whatever level of detail is required.  Donald Trump's rhetoric is effective because it is the language of leadership, something working people everywhere intuit because they experience regularly, and see it as far more credible than the anodyne homilies and boilerplate policyspeak the professional political class has been offering up on both sides of the political spectrum.

We should therefore dispatch with the foolish and childish notions that Donald Trump is either a buffoon or a bloviating blowhard. He is neither. He is as he has been his entire adult life--a leader, a person in charge of himself and in charge of others. He has been a successful leader in business, and he believes he can be a successful leader of this nation's government.

I believe he should be given the chance.