Sunday, September 7, 2008

Presidential Job Description

"I guess being a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except you have actual responsibilities."

Sarah Palin

"...President Bush has displayed impatience, bravado and unsettling personal certainty about his decisions. The result has too often been impulsiveness and carelessness and, perhaps most troubling, a delayed reaction to realities and advice that run counter to his gut."

Bob Woodward, War Within: A Secret White House History -- 2006-2008

"His [McCain's] decision-making process is impetuous and, in its Bush-like preference for gut instinct over facts, potentially dangerous."

Frank Rich, "Palin and McCain's Shotgun Marriage," New York Times, September 7, 2008

There's a small flap going on about the insults to community organizing. Look at the responses from the Center for Community Change and PolicyLink. I think Saul Alinsky might laugh and say that it looks like we got the attention of the powers-that-be.

In the above quotes, Bush and McCain give "gut" reactions a bad name, at least according to the journalists. See Nonprofit Leadership for some other perspectives on the positive side of gut reactions and intuition.

I wish we would have a more enlightened discussion and debate about what relevant experience means for the presidency, especially so-called executive experience. Maybe we need to put together a people's patriotic job description for the presidency. Most job descriptions list duties, and education and experience requirements. Most important, job descriptions should list a set of competencies or "know how" that the job requires and job candidates should show about themselves. As we all know, good candidates for jobs build this "know how" in a lot of ways.

Here's my beginning list of "know how" competencies or skills for the president. Add your own skills to the list:

* Have you had a failure or two and demonstrated that you could learn?
* Do you surround yourself with strong capable leaders and diverse opinions --
and pay attention to what they have to say?
* Have you grappled with decisions where multiple options are "right?"
* Have you made decisions and taken actions that are of consequence?
* Have you forged partnerships with unlikely partners?
* Have you been a key player in "change" efforts of consequence, whether in a
firm, organization, community, or nation?
* Do you still have the ability to walk in the shoes of most Americans?
* Have you responded to emergencies and the unexpected with expediency while
taking into account the most important, available information?
* Do you have a consistent history of ethical action and behavior?

My sense is that we are looking for maturity and judgement, not dueling resumes. And there are many sources for maturity, including commmunity organizing and being a small-town mayor. Even being a senator requires managing 50-60 people, not to mention the thousands of paid and unpaid people involved in presidential campaigns.

Shouldn't we have a debate about "know how" and experience that forces candidates to tell us something more than resumes and policy agendas -- recognizing that these are necessary but not sufficient foundations for effective leadership.

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