Presidential debates are the Super Bowls of job interviews. When Mitt Romney stepped up to the podium in Denver alongside of President Obama, you and me (the American public) in effect called them in for the next stage of their interviews. Since presidents are hired on four-year contracts, the person currently holding the job is no more assured of a contract renewal than the challenger is of a new one. The interview process is tough, the job responsibility unparalleled, and the candidates must prove themselves on multiple levels.
Conventional wisdom in the job market today is "hire slow and fire fast." That's never truer than in American politics. Could anyone imagine a hiring process as long and arduous as the presidential one? Feasibility studies, exploratory efforts, state-by-state ground games, primary debates, primaries, town halls, television and print interviews, vetting by thousands of journalists itching to find some juicy revelation to place them on the map.
On the same token, can anyone imagine a severing as abrupt and final as losing a presidential election? Bottom line: No job in America requires more desire, drive and determination than that of being the leader of the free world. It behooves those of us doing the hiring to take the process just as seriously.
The Denver debate by all accounts and admissions went to the challenger. Romney's manner was engaging, informative, and confident. Obama, on the other hand, seemed either ill prepared or ill at ease. Manner and demeanor in one debate alone, however, will not a president make; it takes skills, the right ones. But what qualifying abilities in a president should be important to all of us regardless of political party, religious affiliation or ethnicity? What skills are most needed for the job?
For starters, we need to know more than where candidates stand on the issues. While no doubt essential, it is entirely possibly for someone to check all of the "right" issues boxes for us and yet be devoid of the skills needed to pull the job off. The most effective presidents not only have a grasp of content but also of context. They understand the issues of the day and possess the skills needed to engage our most vital opportunities and conflicts as a nation with something more than their best ideas; they pursue what is best for the country.
Consultants to CEOs and boards today regularly suggest four qualifying factors most important in hiring leaders. They are character, chemistry, competence and consistency. If you and I employed these same consultants in our November 6 decision they would probably advise us along these lines:
As you choose the next President of the United States, make sure that he has the character the job requires. This country needs someone who has substantial integrity and the moral authority to lead this nation and be an example to its citizens. Chemistry is also important. You want to hire a person who will connect with the people and spirit of this nation and who can stir them to the greatness their challenges require. The candidate's competence will be best seen by their intelligence, their understanding of the issues of the day and their proven abilities in the public arena. Finally, consistency is vital. You need to make sure to hire a president who knows how to get the job done and how to keep getting it done. So, pay close attention to their track record.
These four areas are vital in any hiring process and certainly in this presidential process. But, there is another skill set, a fifth one. This one is uniquely important to this particular election and that is... collaborative skills. Because of the issues facing us currently both domestically and globally, we don't merely need a president who knows how to do the work, we need one who knows how to work together with the rest of the nation and with the politicians at the other side of the ideological table.
In recent years, teaming and team building skills have gained their most notable acclaim in the business community. The concept of teamwork is fast becoming synonymous with successful management in today's business organizations. I have spent the past few years researching this skill in multiple life disciplines and have just finished a book for church leaders on the subject called The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration.
Jesus Christ was the consummate teaming leader. He took a ragtag group of twelve disciples and founded a movement that would arguably change the face of the world. Teams and teaming were his strategy of choice. But, not only do congregations need what I call a "teaming leader," as it turns out so do nations.
The U.S. Department of Labor in fact recently identified collaborative skills and teamwork as one of the five workplace skills that should be more aggressively taught in public schools. The report suggested these new skills are necessary both for the success of individuals in job settings and for U.S. companies competing with foreign and domestic rivals. The rationale is that today's organizations are more complex than ever and more competitive. We can no longer depend on a few star performers to get the job done. In order to survive and thrive, we need leaders who can tap the creativity of people at all levels; we need teaming leaders. American government is no exception.
Am I the only one worn out on hearing leaders in Washington talk about how no one wants to cooperate or collaborate? Don't they sound like kids on a playground wining that "no one wants to play with me"?
Engaging leadership is the thing that inspires cooperation and collaboration among people of diverse opinions and persuasions. The fact is there is only one thing that can get people with differing ideas and agendas working together: a teaming leader.
We had better make sure the president we hire is one.