In 2000, right after The Supreme Court established George W. Bush as the president, I was speaking with an executive recruiter who had voted for him. And I asked a simple question:
“You select senior executives all the time. Would you have recommended George Bush to head a large company?”
I can still remember the glazed look in her eyes. Sheepishly, she admitted that, no, never. But he was such a friendly fellow, one she could relate to. And he seemed to say all the right things — the things she wanted to hear — but maybe not chief executive material.
But now we are doing it again. The search is on to select a person to head the largest and most important organization in the country and we are basing our opinions on how we relate to what he or she says, not the things we should be looking at. The person’s record.
Of course we want a leader who shares our world view, who represents the positions we consider important. That’s why there are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. And we want to know that the person in the oval office isn’t going to run amok. But how should we choose a president? What are the qualifications we ought to look at? Let’s look at the job itself, determine what it entails, and see who fits best.
Is this person smart enough to do the job? Has he or she shown over the years the intellectual strength, depth of knowledge and curiosity, maturity and general worldly wisdom to make the decisions that are crucial to leading the nation? How well-educated is the candidate in the areas that matter such as economics and world affairs.
Does the candidate have the disposition and character you want to represent your organization. Would you be proud to have him or her be the face of the country? Could you rely on the candidate to act sensibly — and sensitively — on the world stage?
Can you rely on the person to be the same in office as he or she was before inauguration day? Is there a proven track record of the candidate’s loyalty, honor and a clear understanding of his or her values? Do you know what this person really wants from the office? And are the candidate’s plans for action both cogent and achievable, or are they just meant to secure the job?
What has he or she done to prove the ability to become chief executive of a very complex national organization with a 3.9 trillion dollar budget and 4.2 million employees? (By contrast, the world’s largest employer, Walmart, has 2.2 million.) Has the candidate for the job managed complex work situations? And how has he or she handled unanticipated and thorny issues — particularly when things go wrong?
- Knowledge of the subject
How has the candidate demonstrated knowledge of the issues he or she is about to face. Is the candidate’s general worldview realistic? And is it consistent with your own view?
- Works well with others
“People skills” are consistently listed among the qualifications for a CEO of any organization, so what does the candidate’s personality and temperament tell you about how successful he or she may be on the job? What do the people who have worked with the candidate say about him or her? Demanding or easy-going? Able to state the goals clearly and concisely? Open to ideas that may differ from the candidate’s own views?
We have had successful presidents, and we have had some who failed miserably. Once we even had to force a president from office and we don’t want to repeat that. Checking the candidate’s qualifications may not tell us who is best prepared intellectually and temperamentally for the job, but it can point to flaws that would eliminate him or her. And if the reasons would be sufficient to reject someone for a position leading a large company, it certainly ought to disqualify a presidential candidate.
So look at each candidate’s resume. How have they performed in the past? What were their successes and how did they respond to failures. Because that’s what you can expect in the future.
These are the things to consider as you decide who will be the CEO of your country. You’re not just sending a message with your vote; you’re selecting the most powerful American on the planet.