Monday, October 31, 2005

Should a President be Qualified for the Job?

Here's a unique concept:
Virtually every job in every company in every part of the country has requirements. Often, there is a list of qualifying criteria that a candidate must meet to be considered for the position. This is true for everything from computer programmers to janitors. From legal counsels to medical practitioners. Carpenters to auto mechanics. Even housekeepers and nannies need some proof they are suitable for the position. The possible exception is day laborers. These are jobs which require no training, no skills, no special intelligence, and are usually just repetitive manual labor, and only done for a day at a time with each person.

Somehow, I don't think the job of US president falls into the category of 'day laborer'. How do you feel about having a set of criteria for judging the fit of a prospective presidential candidate for the job of running the country? In my mind, I keep going back to GWB's campaign where he was asked to name the leaders of any 5 foreign nations, and he couldn't name even one. I remember when he talked about Canada being "one of our neighbors to the north". And I remember his lack of ability to pronounce words like "nuclear" correctly, and his general confusion and misunderstanding of other countries, and international politics or economics.

If we were to look for skills and experience, what kind of experience would we look for? Well, experience in the position before with a proven successful track record would be the best of course. But failing that, what other jobs, and skills, and experiences would serve to qualify a candidate or eliminate unsuitable prospects?

Let me offer a few criteria as a place to start:

1. Candidate must have been the CEO of a company of at least 100 people and which operated successfully with reasonable growth during the candidate's tenure there. There must be proven managerial skills, leadership skills, financial management skills, and public speaking skills. (If he can't run a small company, can he be expected to run an entire country?)

2. Candidate must be literate. A proven education in an accredited post secondary institution. Ivy League school not required.

3. Special credit may be given for military experience . Especially for combat experience. Service time spent in intelligence community would also be considered a plus, as well as previous successful experience in another political office.

4. Candidate must achieve a passing grade on a knowledge-based exam that includes questions in areas of literacy, science, political science, international affairs, world geography, history, economics, and trade.

5. Candidate must achieve a score higher than 120 on a standard IQ test involving basic skills such as pattern recognition, mathematical problems, logic, vocabulary questions, etc..

6. Candidate must pass an ethics exam that adequately tests his honesty, and ability to determine the 'right' path and willingness to follow that path even at some personal cost.

7. Candidate must pass a psychological test and health exam to make sure there are no emotional problems or mental problems or physical health problems that could lead to poor decisions or poor performance.

8. Candidate must have a clean drug record with no current substance abuse habits.

9. Candidate must not have a criminal record that includes felonies.

10. Candidate must pass a thorough review of their personal associations to ensure he/she doesn't "owe anybody any special favors" such that by repaying them, there would be a compromise of the integrity of the office and role of the president.

Does this sound reasonable for a top 10 of job requirements?
Do these things sound like they are a reasonable expectation of a person who would like to be the President of the United States? Would this allow us to avoid placing a person into office merely because they had a big enough election budget to be advertised highly enough, or because they have friends in the right places, or because they are good-looking enough, or whatever?

It doesn't ensure they would always make all the right decisions in every case, but perhaps at least it ensures that they are *capable* of making good sound decisions.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we should have a way of ensuring our president is technically skilled enough and qualified enough to do the job? Or do you think the current system of allowing any candidate with enough money to advertise himself is a good enough way to choose our country's leader?

As a secondary question, I wonder how many of our past presidents would pass this criteria? As a tertiary question, who should we open up the candidacy to, to take these tests and submit an application? US citizens only? Or anyone who qualifies? Any age restrictions? Racial or gender, or religious restrictions?

The reason I put the executive requirement in there is because I feel that running a business is excellent training for a political leadership role. You learn to have a vision and stick to it. You learn how to make reasonable goals and then you learn ways to plan to reach them. You learn to manage people. You learn to speak to people. You learn to achieve real results, NOT just political dishwater which gets bandied about in speeches until it smells like fine wine. It's real experience at running things.
The reason I chose that size or larger is because running a smaller company, such as 30 or 40 people doesn't quite have the same level of infrastructure and therefore the leadership skills are at a different level. You need to have a hierarchy that has several layers to it. In a small company, you're either the owner or you're not. If you're not, then you're simply an employee and you simply trade your time for your salary, but you are excluded from any other ambitions because the infrastructure is not set up for that. However, once you get to a certain size, where the infrastructure is large enough - now a person other than the owner can actually have a career there. So people's motivations are different and more complex, and therefore the CEO has a different set of motivational tools available to him. That model of CEO is a little closer to the model of being president. He has to know how to motivate people properly.

I think the fact that so few presidents have had the experience of running a company does not prove that it's not a necessary experiential skill-set, but rather it potentially proves that the presidents we've had are not all as skilled as they might have been.
You may have noticed that I DIDN'T include experience as a lawyer as being a necessary requirement for the position. I just think if you are going to run things, and take on ultimate responsibility for your decisions - then you ought to have some experience running things and taking ultimate responsibility for your decisions.

Running a country IS running a business. It's a very BIG business. But a business. Think about it. Basically, the job of managing a business is a job of managing your resources for maximum benefit and maximum gain. You minimize obstacles and inefficiencies, and maximize productivity and results. Isn't that what we want from our country? I think we need an entirely different set of candidates to choose from. We need to be fishing from a different pool of fish. We don't need another lawyer to run the country. We need a proven leader to lead us. Maybe my impressions are all wrong and maybe Bush is the man. ...but I don't think so.

I have said in the past that the president's role has more or less devolved into that of a 'talking figurehead". And I still say that. However, I think a real powerful individual in that role could make it so much more. A real leader could restore some real power to the role. It could possibly once again return to being much more than the “spokes-model” role it has become. And even as just a talking figurehead - some facility with language and communications skills are necessary.

GWB doesn't seem to be very good at communicating ideas effectively. He comes across friendly and likeable, but frankly, not too bright. A person who has been successful in a CEO role in a reasonably sized corporation would have these skills down pat.
Perhaps by applying these ten criteria for selecting candidates for the role, we could end up putting true leaders into that role. The basic idea here is to find someone who actually has specific skills at leadership and communication, and who has content knowledge about world geography, world history, trade, science, AND political science. We want someone demonstrably smart and knowledgeable and honest and ethical. We need someone with actual, measurable skills for the position. This is merely a set of criteria to ensure our candidates have all those qualities. Somehow, I think having some criteria to this selection process has to be better than what we have now.

What we have now is a system where anyone at all can be president - as long as he can raise tens of millions of dollars in campaign funds to advertise himself. That, and he has to be a US citizen and more than 35 years old. It is arguably the most important job in the country. Our representative to the world certainly. Surely we should have SOME quality criteria other than the fact that he has more campaign funds than the other candidate? Don't you think?

Here’s another question: Why do we usually have lawyers in our political leadership positions? It occurs to me that this evolved from the time of the beginning of the country. At the start , creating a country is mostly a matter of creating legislation. Making laws. Making a constitution - and then making the laws serve the intentions of the constitution. The original structural foundation of a country is it's constitution and it's laws. They define the boundaries of exactly what the country is and what the people within it may do and what they may not do.

The intentions of the founders of the country are reflected in the legislation created to define it. So it makes sense to have lawyers and people trained in law to do this. If the main business of government is to draft legislation, then experts in legislation are viable candidates for that kind of work. Well, now we have been around as a country for well over 200 years. We've got LOTS of laws. For over 200 years the lawyers that run the country in all it's levels and facets have been creating ever more complex laws and loopholes to those laws for their friends and benefactors. It seems to me that we have come to the point where there are OTHER aspects of running a country besides drafting more laws, and that those other things should be more prominent and important now. And these are things that are not completely unlike the effective management of the resources a large, very diversified business.

I think the following things are perhaps now MORE important than drafting new laws:
1) How do we keep our people employed?
2) How do we stay out of debt, or at least minimize it?
3) How do we grow in prosperity?
4) How do we build and maintain our infrastructure?
5) How do we deploy our people to maximize their potential?
6) How do we educate our young?
7) How do we keep our people healthy?
8) How do we get along peacefully with other nations?
9) How do we encourage the maximum in profitable trade with other nations?
10) How do we plan for natural disasters?
11) How do we plan for and minimize economic downturns and maximize economic upturns?
12) How do we prevent offshore outsourcing of jobs from negatively impacting our employment opportunities in this country?
13) How do we minimize waste in all forms?
14) How do we plan for economic and physical development and growth and encourage it, and yet still protect the environment?
15) How do we minimize crime and deal with criminals?
16) How do we deal with people who cannot, or will not, work?
17) How do we deal with military threats from other countries?
18) How do we deal with terrorist threats from outside AND inside the country?
19) How do we deal with religions and their followers?
20) How do we plan our resources to cover drastic shortages in the future?
21) How do we take a lead role in creating technology and innovation?
22) How do we maintain our position in areas of technology, science, and innovation in a heavily competitive world?
23) How do we keep our borders, and our secrets, safe?
24) How do we protect and enhance the things that are important to us as a culture?
25) How do we anticipate and plan for the future needs of our people?

These are just 25 things off the top of my head that I think might be high on the list of things a president needs to be thinking about and finding ways to manage. As I look at this list, it occurs to me that, although lawyers are usually bright people, a training in law does not prepare a person for these kinds of challenges. Legislation - however cleverly worded and debated - does not solve THESE kinds of massively important problems.
What is needed here is NOT another lawyer. It is a LEADER. It is my sense that a CEO-type of leader accustomed to running and managing the resources of a large organization successfully is more suited to these kinds of challenges than the average lawyer. This is why I advocate the criteria I mentioned above as a way to help us find people that can tackle these kinds of problems and find solutions that work.

Most of the political leaders seem too focused on the job of getting elected or getting re-elected to really focus on these 25 items mentioned above. And when they are forced or pressured into looking at one of these issues, I've noticed they often merely draft some sort of legislation that serves the interests of their benefactors and combine it with other bills, which effectively ties it up in a political process long enough that their successors will have to deal with it. They all seem much more interested in the daily business of power-brokering and influence-pedaling, rather than solving these kinds of problems.
It is perhaps an unfair statement and is most certainly not true of all politicians, but it is true often enough that, to me at least, it seems the norm now. We need a different type of leader than what we've had for over 200 years. We have enough laws and rules.
True, it is laws and rules that may define partly how we implement our decisions and solutions, but that is mere mechanism. We need those decisions and solutions in the first place. And one solitary person cannot be expected to solve every problem himself. But he doesn't have to. The job is to find the talents and solutions within US - the people of the country, and motivate us to bring them forth.
The right person is one who can extract the solutions out of us and make them work. We need a decision maker. We need a visionary. We need a LEADER.

But as I said, the leader probably cannot come up with all the solutions to all the problems of the country himself. So here is an idea: The "Solution Lottery"!!!

Here's how this could work: We post the above mentioned greatest problems of our nation to be solved, and invite solutions from the entire population of the country. We offer 2 million dollars to the person who has the most viable solution to any one of the problems, if we can determine that it works to a satisfactory degree.
There are 300 million people here. That is a large, healthy pool of intellect to draw creative solutions from. Surely, somewhere among the 300 million people here, there are some who will have brilliant creative solutions to these problems and wouldn't mind collecting two million dollars to write it up and send it in. Not to mention the satisfaction of helping your own country in a measurable significant way. (Also, think how good that would look on your resume... "Created solution that reduced US unemployment by 30%...")

Now consider the costs. We are talking about 25 major problems. Let's say there are 50 major critical national problems to solve, instead. If we paid 2 million dollars per solution, AND paid ANOTHER 100 million dollars for the group tasked with collecting, evaluating and analyzing and overseeing the solution lottery, the total cost would be 200 million dollars. The last time I looked, the federal budget was about 6 trillion dollars per year. At that rate, this entire program would only cost 17.5 minutes of tax dollars to pay for it. And in exchange, we would have workable, viable solutions for all our largest problems as a country. Our country, our culture, our society would be improved forever. That HAS to be the best use of tax dollars, I've ever heard of.
And what if we can't find 25 solutions among our 300 million citizens? Well, then why not offer it to the whole world? After all, there are SIX BILLION more people out THERE!! And a lot of them are pretty bright.
If the solution doesn't exist this year? Then try again next year!!!! Keep trying!!! Keep it as an open offer for as long as it takes for someone to come up with the solutions we need. Now THIS is what a real leader might do. He would invest a little for a huge return.

And what a return on the investment! Can you imagine what it would be like to have those 25 problems solved!!?? Or at least significantly improved upon?? Heck, even if it cost ten times that amount to manage the Solution Lottery, and even if we paid 10 million dollars for each successful solution, it would still be a huge bargain.
After all, what does it cost us each year to NOT have those problems solved? And these are not the only problems. There are others.
26) How do we feed all our people properly?
27) How do we provide adequate shelter and modern facilities for everyone?
28) How do we help others in other countries without damaging ourselves?
29) How do we gain maximum efficiency in production?
30) How do we remain competitive?
31) How do we attract the right kinds of people to join our country?
32) How do we explore space effectively, efficiently?
33) How do we maximize the utilization of our natural resources?
34) How do we control monopolies to prevent market abuses?
35) How do we maintain a high moral code among our people?
36) How do we minimize the effects of substance abuses?
37) How do we reduce teen pregnancies?
38) How do we minimize school drop-outs?
39) How do we effectively motivate pharmaceuticals to create CURES instead of ongoing treatments?
40) How do we encourage and maintain pure scientific research?
41) How do we minimize gender inequities in the workplace?
42) How do we minimize the effects of racism - or erase it, even!?
43) How do we stop or minimize illegal drug trafficking?
44) How do we stop or minimize organized crime?
45) How do we make our vehicles safer?
46) How do we make air travel safe, convenient, and yet protect from terrorism?
47) How do we prevent rail disasters?
48) How do we ensure that the needs and desires of our population are TRULY represented by the elected officials?
49) How do we lessen the effects of the strong using their advantage to persecute the weak?
50) How do we provide a path for people to upgrade themselves from poverty?

And the list goes on...... We have such INCREDIBLE potential if the right leader would come along and know how to tap into our resources like that. Forget the clouds of impending doom - this kind of change could usher in a whole new era of prosperity. We could go so far with the right leadership.


At 5/31/2006 5:50 PM, Anonymous Igor said...

my 2cents:

CEOs ? are you serious?! the people who present themselves with $$,$$$,$$$ compensations while the companies go down the drain?! (GM, anyone?).

I suggest that the solution to ineptitude of politicians is not the selection process, but the *REAL* responsibility for failures - not a golden handshake to some corporate board. (what consequences did Nixon face after watergate? Johnson after nam? Clinton after monica? - Just more free time for golf!)

However dumb Dubya may be, however hubris Rummie may be, they wouldn't start the Iraq fiasco, if they knew that in case of failure they get electric chair or life in prison.

I think the potential personal responsibility for policy failures would serve as the "exam" you think about.

On the other hand, such responsibility may just leave crazy lunatic-fanatics (like animal rights or back-to-nature activists) as the only candidates...

And on yet another hand, may be the presidency has better be a hard, UNWANTED and un-rewarding duty, not something one would run (and screw) for.

kinda - ok, Val, you are good and honest person, you are selected (nominated and voted for) to be the POTUS for next 4 years, and if you are unlucky to preside over economic downturn, you'd end in the prison, not that it's your fault... but we know, that despite of all that you'd do your absolute best to advance the wellbeing of american people and help you God!

At 5/31/2006 6:43 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Yes, I am serious about getting someone with experience in running a company to help run the country.
Not all CEO's act like Kenneth Lay.
In fact, obviously, one of the criteria is no crimes on their record.
So Ken Lay wouldn't qualify.

I think that selecting the right person in the first place - someone qualified to actually do the job - is a good first step.

Then putting some of these plans in place would be a good second step.

You make an interesting point about sending them to jail for failure. I think that going to jail should be considered if the mistake was done DELIBERATELY for personal gain.
But if someone makes an honest mistake, or if things beyond their power and control ruin their well-intentioned plans, then a jail term is probably not called for.

And thanks for the vote. I don't know if I would make an excellent president or a mediocre one - but I would be willing to try.

I'd just honestly want to try to help people, and help the country, and solve the problems.

Of course, the irony is that people who want that never get to a position where they could have the job. It's always got to be some person with political clout and the right friends, who then owes them all big time and has to pay them back once in office. So the system itself fosters more corruption and cronyism.

We would have to change the system itself to do better. And I did recommend a better system that DOES fix this - in a later article about "A Better Democracy, perhaps??"

At 5/31/2006 7:39 PM, Anonymous Igor said...

I think that going to jail should be considered if the mistake was done DELIBERATELY for personal gain.
But if someone makes an honest mistake, or if things beyond their power and control ruin their well-intentioned plans, then a jail term is probably not called for.

Well, ... yes, if that's the justice we are talking about. But we are not! What I suggest is not a means of serving justice, but a way to prevent failure of policies.

An architect would pay the price if the structure built according to his blueprints fails, no matter whether s/he did diliberate mistake or not, was the mistake to get personal gains, or not. Even many the outside factors do not prevent architect from paying the price: if it's a known seismic zone - even earthquake is not an excuse!

No, allowing POTUS&Co to cover behind "things beyond their power and control" would only castrate my idea into competion between lawyers. No sir. Once the failure is a fact - please, welcome to guantanemo. Is it not your fault? Sorry, it comes with the position. The duty.

Take for example the "intelligence failure" over Iraq WMDs. Put it into courtroom - and for years lawyers would be debating what was "under control" and what was "beyond control" and what would be the result? nobody's guilty. and the next "intelligence failure" is guaranteed.

But, I tell you, if only Bush and Cheney and CIA top officers knew that:
1/ if they think that Saddam doesn't have WMDs, and he does and uses them against US - Bush&co go to electric chair.
2/ if they think that Saddam has WMDs and they start the war and there is no WMDs - Bush&Co go to prison.
3/ leaving the job is not an option until Saddam's issue is resolved.

- I tell you, there would be NO intelligence failure. I'd say, in that situation, the CIA would sign Saddam himself as a US agent ;-)

No sir, my life experience taught me that once a person's wellbeing directly depends on (something), "things beyond control" is not an issue. And! once "things beyond control" are excepted as an excuse - my god, you wont believe - but everything suddenly is being controlled by hostile, unavoidable, omnistrong forces of nature - even the fact that your car ran out of gas! Mystery!


sorry for a long comment, but I cannot resist telling you a legend. Have you heard about Mr.Stalin?

Once, at the Politburo meeting, a particular important industrial project was being discussed. And 2 ministers argued fiercely about how to proceed. As none of them gave any ground, everybody turned to Mr.Stalin for the verdict. The problem was that the project was really important and mustn't fail - one couldn't allow for choosing the "wrong way" to proceed.

Mr.Stalin said: "Well, I say, if 2 communists cannot get to agreement on this important issue, then it means that one of them is not communist. Comrades, we don't have time here to find out which one of you ywo is not communist. Please, go to a separate room, and find out among yourselves which one of you two is not communist, then come back and report to Politburo".

And so they went and came back with the agreed decision as how to proceed with the project. Need I say that the decision turned out to be the "right one"?


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