Kushner is an example of bad leadership

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

This feels like the kind of story that I have tried to tell about leaders who undermine the organization they are supposed to be leading:

This is basically Kushner’s modus operandi, and it’s painfully familiar to me because he was my boss when I was the editor in chief of the New York Observer, which he had bought when he was 25. (I’ve written before about what he was like as a businessman.) One of the more memorable instances of this I witnessed was at a memorial service for a beloved longtime Observer staffer, Tyler Rush, who’d joined the paper well before Kushner bought it. When it came time for Kushner to say a few words, he launched into a supercilious monologue crediting himself with finally getting the paper published on time after what he described as chaos when he arrived. He also told an anecdote about Rush approaching him when he bought the paper to note that his staff was underpaid, which was true at the time, and true when I took the editor job years later. Kushner congratulated himself during the memorial for giving Rush and his production team the only raise that year because “unlike everyone else,” Rush hadn’t been lying to Kushner.

This line didn’t land the way Kushner hoped, because no one had been lying. Everyone was underpaid. But he didn’t like what he heard from the other staffers, so he proceeded to make his own assessment about what their experience and expertise were worth. This was not based on market comparables or the technical intricacies of a job, apparently, but his personal valuation of what a writer or a production manager or salesperson was worth — which always, at least in my conversations with him, seemed to be rooted in an idea that people who choose occupations that are not explicitly and primarily designed to make money were dilettantes of a sort, and essentially unserious. Why would you choose to be a journalist when you could make so much more money as a commercial real estate developer? The conclusion he drew was that people who chose less remunerative career paths had not figured out how the world worked. To use a phrase he routinely deployed, they “didn’t get it.” And as such, they were disposable workers whose knowledge base could probably be replaced by a rigorous Google search. If their expertise was actually valuable, if they were so smart, they’d be monetizing it better.

The more grotesque and repulsive aspect of this incident was that Kusher thought this self-aggrandizing nonsense was an appropriate eulogy, but that, too, is in keeping with how he operates. When I knew him, he seemed constitutionally incapable of considering the humanity of other people as a starting point. Relationships were primarily transactional, and this failure of empathy permeated everything he did. He could not register the grief of the people in the room that day for the same reason that he apparently can’t register the grief millions of Americans are experiencing now as their lives are upended by covid-19 and people they love become sick and die. It’s what enables him to lie on camera about the state of what’s happening — to view the coronavirus response as an opportunity to trade favors and not a necessary and vital obligation of the federal government — and why he will cast himself as a begrudging custodian of problems other people created even as those problems metastasize all around him as a direct consequence of his mismanagement.