This Is Why It's Time to Rethink the Presidential Campaign

From the standpoint of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, this presidential election looks crazy -- for reasons that are different than you might think.

Presidential campaigns bear a striking resemblance to a very well-funded startup. For starters, they're supposed to grow from nothing into a national juggernaut at a lightning pace. They have to raise huge amounts of money based on a vision. They have to hit key milestones and KPIs faster than their competitors. If they exceed expectations, then the media will say great things about them. If they don't, they'll get slammed.

And they're competing in a winner-take-all competition. Only one campaign will ultimately win the prize: the opportunity to lead and manage the most important organization on the planet, the United States government.

Maybe it's time to start approaching this election like a startup would. After all, electing a new president is essentially like finding a new CEO. Here's why:

A Board of Directors for America

What's the role of U.S. citizens and the media? We're like a board of directors trying to find a new CEO. Our job is to interview the candidates, ask the right questions, ignore the BS, and ultimately choose the best candidate for the job.

I know a lot about the importance of that process. Not only do I run a venture-backed Silicon Valley company called PathSource, but it's focused on career exploration for young job seekers and enabling employers to find the right candidates. And, like hiring managers who have to sift through a lot of suboptimal candidates to find the right one, the American people have had a difficult challenge this campaign season with so many candidates to choose from.

So, how have we performed in our job as a board of directors? We're basically the most confused, dysfunctional board in history.

What We're Missing

When it comes time to select the CEO of a country that faces increased competition, training and development challenges, and security issues, what are the questions you're going to ask candidates?

Well, you're certainly going to ask about how they're going to tackle those problems. And we have asked that -- ad nauseam.

Have the presidential debates felt like Groundhog Day to you? Every debate, we ask about ISIS, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court -- you get the gist. There are small variations here and there, but all of these questions follow a very stale pattern. While these are very important questions, it's not clear why debate moderators think there's value in asking candidates about their views on immigration a 21st time. Especially not when there are other critical questions that we're not asking.

The greatest challenges that a future president will face are likely not the ones we know about, but rather the ones we can't foresee today. What process will a potential future president put in place to decide on an appropriate course of action if they're awoken at 3 a.m. and told we're under attack? How would the candidates respond to a strike by workers at the nation's power plants?

Now that we're finally down to the two likely nominees, it becomes even more important to ask the right questions in the debates this Fall.

A thoughtful set of questions would focus on the way presidential candidates would lead and the processes and people they would put in place. It would include questions like:

  • How will you think about who to select for your cabinet?
  • What qualifications will you look for in your chief of staff?
  • How will you decide what to do in an economic crisis? How does that differ from a security crisis?
  • How will you manage all of the agencies under your control? What changes would you enact and how, on a step-by-step basis, would you enact them?

We're selecting people to run the government, but we have no idea what their management style is. We're not even asking. Why is that?

Why Our Board of Directors isn't Asking the Right Questions

Journalists serve as leaders of our national board of directors. They are supposed to ask smart, tough questions of candidates so that we can all make an informed decision. But they're consistently failing to ask extraordinarily important questions. Why?

Because -- with a few exceptions -- neither the media nor the debate moderators know anything about running a business.

Their experience is solely in the world of journalism. Based on their questions, it appears that they don't have any familiarity with the importance of management or the responsibilities that go with it.

This is a particularly poignant problem in the debates. The American public likely presumes that CNBC and Fox Business debate moderators actually know a thing or two about business and are asking the right questions in the "business" oriented debates.

But do they?

Shockingly, Fox Business gurus and debate moderators Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo (who used to work for CNBC) don't actually have any business experience. They're just reporters who happen to talk about business. This isn't the exception; it's the norm. No one in the debates knows what questions should be asked.

Failing to Connect the Dots

Since most journalists don't know anything about management, no one connected Marco Rubio's failure to build a campaign infrastructure in early primary states with his overall management capability.

The talking heads on every network have pointed out that Donald Trump sometimes seems like a one-man campaign and initially was flat footed in mobilizing a qualified team to select and persuade delegates in case there's a brokered convention. But they don't ask what his campaign management says about his management style overall or how he might run the country. (Political insiders may point out that the campaign manager runs the campaign, but the candidate hires and fires the campaign manager.)

In other words, we're not doing a good job of looking at past performance and experience and connecting the dots to evaluate how a candidate will handle future challenges.

If America was a startup in Silicon Valley, based on our performance over the course of this election, it would have difficulty attracting investment. As America's board of directors, we're not asking the right questions and we don't even know what questions to ask.

We're all deeply invested in this country. Let's make sure we know who we're hiring as our CEO.

What are some other reasons we should approach the presidential campaign more like a board of directors choosing a CEO? Share in the comments below!

Aaron Michel is the co-founder and CEO at PathSource, a career exploration solution helping students and job seekers make better career choices with its free iOS mobile app. To navigate your infinite career possibilities, connect with Aaron and the PathSource team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.