Senior management should be focused on the big strategic issues rather than fussing about the internal politics of the organisation, writes Brian Caplen.

Donald Trump is not the first holder of high office to get distracted by inner-sanctum shenanigans and turf wars. In the UK, former prime minister Tony Blair expended considerable energies sparring with his minister of finance Gordon Brown, resulting in government that, in policy terms, was mostly underwhelming.

Whatever the ramifications of Michael Wolff’s revelations, in his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the worst outcome is the reaction of President Trump. The time spent on discrediting Mr Wolff and his sources is time not being used for achieving policy goals that under the Trump presidency have been few and far between.

But anyone who works in a big company or bank knows someone who, in some respects, resembles Mr Trump. Such people have a remarkable penchant for staying in power even though their contribution to strategy and success is often light. Their talent is for playing internal politics fast and loose and for being tough and combative. The external direction of the organisation seems less important to them than triumphing in insider battles.

Banks have got themselves into serious trouble in this way with senior management taking their eye off the markets and essential risk management, concentrating instead on bonuses, promotions, a more glamorous venture such as a takeover or even a hobby or charity.  

Who should be watching out for this? The board of directors and particularly the non-execs for a start, but also managers at any level if the problem is serious enough.

Even with all that has gone wrong in banking over the past decade, you can be sure that there are powerful executives with dangerous behaviour traits who are not being kept properly in check. Are you speaking out about it or waiting to read it in a book? 

The former course of action would be better for your bank, if not for you as a whistleblower – and that, of course, is at the root of the cultural problem that banks have tried to fix but remains a work in progress. A culture in which bad behaviour is sanctioned not encouraged, at whatever level it occurs, is essential for the long-term health of banking.

Banks need to stay as focused on culture as they are on regulation, and ensure that the required standards apply to the senior and powerful as much as to the rank and file. 

Brian Caplen is the editor of The Banker. Follow him on Twitter @BrianCaplen

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