There’s a classic Seinfeld episode where Jerry complains to George that his girlfriend likes to walk around the apartment naked. While George thinks that sounds heaven-sent, Jerry explains the difference between good-naked and bad-naked. A naked woman in bed is good-naked. A naked woman sneezing or struggling to open a jar lid is bad-naked.
A similar dichotomy has taken stage in full view in Trump’s executive office. The president clearly values loyalty above experience and expertise. As a result, he has surrounded himself with loyalists like Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions, and many more.
There is nothing inherently wrong with loyalty. Indeed, loyalty is a much coveted trait in politics, business, and personal relationships. But loyalty must be accompanied and moderated by honesty. Without the ability to be honest (i.e., to disagree and criticize when necessary), loyalists turn into sycophants. They become detrimental rather than advantageous resources.
I’ve long been an advocate of playing the role of the devil’s advocate. I’ve written about it in several books and have discussed it in every class I’ve taught. To my mind, the most valuable contribution a loyalist can make is to pose the questions that no one else can or will ask. The vast majority of decisions would be strengthened – or decimated – simply by tossing a monkey wrench into the mix. Asking why, what-if, how-and-when, what-about, and a million other variations of the let’s-take-a-step-back-and-reconsider our options and alternatives is critical to success in every endeavor.
Devil’s advocacy is a technique that requires a level of confidence and spiritual courage that is rarely found in an administration that celebrates obsequiousness, revels in affirmation, embraces the superficial, values bluster over decorum, and disvalues intellectual curiosity in any form.
What we are experiencing today via The Donald and his fawning entourage is bad-loyalty at its worst and most damaging. As Trump would say: it’s BIGLY SAD.