Is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a Wimp?

Rex Tillerson was known as many things when he was nominated by Donald Trump for Secretary of State: CEO, friend of Vladimir Putin, a strong, pragmatic executive, but right now the only word that seems to describe him is—wimp.

Consider the evidence. When Trump vetoed Tillerson’s hand-picked choice for deputy secretary, foreign policy veteran Elliott Abrams, Tillerson did nothing. This left the new secretary of state running a department void of experienced hands. (There was a mass exodus of experienced staff after the election.) It’s true that Trump nixed Abrams because of his sharp warnings about the former candidate during the election, but as someone who has put dozens of successful senior executives in place, I’m actually stunned that Tillerson didn’t demand being allowed to hand pick his own staff as part of the deal when he accepted the nomination. Trump’s endless need for power stripped Tillerson of the prestige and authority he needs to succeed at his new post.

As Tillerson cowers before the Bully-in-Chief, we begin to wonder if he has any influence. According to Politico, Trump never conferred with Tillerson when he changed his policy about Palestinian statehood or castigated Iran for its ballistic missile test. Tillerson was conspicuously absent when Trump met with the leaders of Israel and Canada and little seen during the visits from Japan and the United Kingdom. Vice President Mike Pence will be touring Europe without Tillerson, and when Tillerson did go to Mexico and Germany he took no questions and gave no official version of his discussions. In fact, most of what we know about any of his interactions have come from foreign governments. Press briefings by the State Department have been put on hold for now. 

It appears that Tillerson, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is bowing to the pressure of his bully boss. DeVos recently tried to stand her ground when she refused to sign off on the repeal of the nondiscrimination laws against transgender students, fearing for the students’ safety. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressured her, and when she still refused, he went to Trump, who demanded she drop her opposition. Since then she has characterized the nondiscrimination rules as overreach by the Obama administration. So rather than resign, she’s been bullied into toeing the party line.

Clearly Tillerson and DeVos are dealing with a toxic workplace. The ramifications are frightening, which is why the quest for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces is so dire. You can learn more about how toxic workplaces operate and how they can be fixed in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. But until this becomes a priority in the White House, I have no doubt we’ll see more cabinet members being bullied into submission by Trump and his cronies.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons