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Reboot: What Should It Take to Become President?

In a little over two weeks America will be choosing a new president, along with senators, representatives, and other government officials.  I think I can say, without contradiction, this has been the most unusual, outrageous, tense election cycle we have experienced. The differences between the two top candidates couldn't be starker.

Ten months ago I wrote the following post on what it should take to be president. What are the skills, basic approaches to governance, temperament, and experiences that the next leader of this country should possess?

I am rerunning that post again to see if what was said almost a year ago should be modified or changed in any way. Just like the last time, please don't turn this into a rant about either of the candidates running for president. I would hope that this list, along with your comments, can be re-run before the 2020 cycle to help us think through whatever those choices will be.

After a post late last year, Are We Really So Afraid?, a reader asked me to develop a job description for the office of president. The silliness of the debates, the sound-bite approach to picking a leader for our country and the difficulty in finding information that hasn't been pushed through a particular political or social filter made this a fascinating request.

After all, someone who applies for a position of leadership in a large company must be able to prove why he or she has the experience and temperament to get the job done. For a position with as many direct consequences on our daily life, shouldn't there be as careful an examination for president?

If we look at the last several decades, the answer would seem to be, No. Our Chief Executive is picked on emotional reactions or ideological feelings, the ability to raise huge sums of money, and having powerful friends both inside and outside government. Experience in managing people, effective decision-making, the ability to compromise for the good of all, and a moral center that prohibits losing sight of who and what we are as a company (or country), are great for the CEO of Intel or Google but don't seem to be part of how we choose a president.

So, in all humility, I offer the following as a basic job description for the office holder of the U.S. Presidency. This list is not all inclusive, but maybe a good start for discussion:

1) Understand that the president is the leader of all 320 million of us. The politics that gets someone elected cannot prevent that person from governing in a way that benefits us all. Purely partisan decisions must be left behind when entering the White House. 

2) Understand that democratic governance often requires compromise. That is how our system is designed to function. Unless we are willing to adopt an autocratic form of government, there must be the ability and temperament to compromise. Sometimes unpopular, hard decisions are required. At other times, they are counterproductive.

3) Understand the United States is part of a world economy and collection of 195 countries. Many have no interest in being like us. Some actively dislike us. Some are our friends when it suits their interests, or ours. Maybe it worked in the past, but today we can no longer tell others what to do and expect them to toe the line. To protect our interests you may have to act in a way that makes others angry. At the same time, cooperation and recognizing the rights of others to make their own choices are essential skills. Trade pacts are developed to protect each participant, but sometimes that is not the end result. Be open to change if needed, stability when required.

4) Understand that over the long haul building bridges works better than building walls, though sometimes the person with the biggest wall wins.

5) Understand how our system of government functions. Being an "outsider" is an attractive trait when some are angry at a dysfunctional establishment. Not having a strong knowledge of the rules of the game and how things are accomplished will lead to gridlock and a frozen system, or being taken advantage of in a way that puts all of us at risk.

6) Understand the geopolitical world situation. The mix of religions, ethnic groupings, history, changing alliances, and an inner-connected world is a complex system that does not respond to simple solutions.

7) Understand the history of the United States. How and why we were founded, the mistakes and accomplishments in our past, and the moral character our citizens believe in must guide decisions and leadership choices.

8) Understand that during your term you will face unending criticism from constantly shifting portions of the citizenry. You will have to make tough decisions that might be politically wrong, but ethically right. You will do things that some people hate, and some may love. You cannot take it personally. You are trying to lead a society that has become fragmented and ethnically diverse. You will never please everyone. Also, understand that in 4 or 8 years you will be out of a job. You are going to be replaced, so stay humble.

What did I overlook?


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