How do you actually run a White House? What is the president’s actual job? What is the chief of staff’s role? What happens if you screw up?
These are questions I’ve been reflecting on rather a lot lately, for obvious reasons. And so I asked Denis McDonough on the podcast to talk about them.
McDonough served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017 — a position in which he earned the nickname “Obama’s Obama.” This is his first lengthy interview since leaving the White House, and he was thoughtful, reflective, and sober about both the job he did, and the job his successors must do.
This is a discussion about running the most important organization in the world well — and what happens when you fail. McDonough and the Obama administration did have their failures, and those failures taught them hard lessons.
This discussion, to me, speaks to a great vulnerability opening up under the Trump White House. They are trying to pursue their agenda, but they are not effectively managing the vast organization they’re in charge of. That’s going to lead to mistakes, and those mistakes could come to define, or even destroy, this administration.
Which is why, if there’s anyone who should listen to this podcast, it’s the current occupants of McDonough’s old workplace. This discussion is full of advice that’s useful to anyone running anything big, or anyone interested in how big things are run. I learned a lot from it. You will too.