Career Coach: Your checklist for picking the next president

November 4, 2012

Those going to the polls this Election Day might think about their vote to pick the next president as selecting the right candidate for the job. As with any job, start with the job description to really understand the major duties and tasks, then determine what knowledge, skills and abilities are needed to carry out those tasks. For the president of the United States, the major job duties are defined in Article II of the U.S. Constitution, and include the following:

The president must be a natural born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years old and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years. In terms of duties:

The president is the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces and of the state militias when these are called into federal service.

The president may grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment.

The president may make treaties, with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the senators who are present agree.

The president may nominate ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise described in the Constitution. The Senate has final approval on any nominations.

The president reports on the state of the union.

The president has the power to recommend to Congress’s consideration such measures, which the president deems as “necessary and expedient.”

The president may convene either house, or both houses, of Congress.

When the two houses of Congress cannot agree on the time of adjournment, the president may adjourn them to some future date.

The president sees that the laws are faithfully executed.

3 The president commissions all the offices of the federal government.

Given these duties, what leadership skills should we be looking for when picking our next president? Similar to other high-ranking leaders or CEOs, we should be looking for the major attributes of effective leadership. These may include:

Credibility: Will the person do what he says he will do, and tell the truth? As leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner say, “do they model the way” and set the example for others? Are they consistent in the message they send to others and follow through on their commitments?

Visionary: Does the candidate have an optimistic vision for the future of America and inspire others toward that vision? Does he have a plan and is he clear about the direction he is taking the country?

Communication skills: Does he have the charisma and oral communication skills to be able to persuade and influence members of Congress, foreign leaders and the American public? Is he a good listener, able to hear all sides of an issue in order to work effectively with others?

Negotiation skills: The candidate needs to be able to collaborate and manage conflict with people who have differing views; to compromise when needed or to use more power negotiating tactics when called for.

Problem-solving skills: He needs to have strong analytical skills for processing lots of information both at strategic and tactical levels.

Judgment: The candidate needs to take decisive action in a timely fashion when needed.

Openness and flexibility: Is he open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, when those are necessary?

Competence and experience: Every day that he is not up to speed on the requirements of the job is a day that others (i.e., enemies) can take advantage of.

Emotional and social intelligence: The president needs to be able to show tact and diplomacy when interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds or countries. He need to be able to control his emotions to avoid inappropriate displays of emotion. A very important aspect of EQ, which has been mentioned a lot in this presidential race, is empathy (i.e., the president must be able to relate to individuals from varying backgrounds and socioeconomic means and to “connect” to the American public; to be able to put themselves in others’ shoes).

Limited derailers: There are 11 behaviors, identified by authors David Dotlich and Peter Cairo, that can derail top leaders. These traits include arrogance, volatility, excessive caution, aloofness, eagerness to please and habitual distrust. While most leaders have some potential derailers, they can still be successful if they know how to manage them. However, without good self-awareness and self-monitoring, a president’s derailers may ultimately be his or her downfall.

It’s unlikely to be a perfect match for any candidate. You just have to think about what qualities you consider absolutely essential, and those you are willing to excuse.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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