Imagine a major corporation selecting a key executive - even its
next CEO - based on her appearance, or her accent, or her promise
to act on issues of concern to the company, without really
articulating HOW she would do it. What if you, as the hiring
expert, needed to compare leading job candidates for a key job?
Wouldn't you want to examine key attributes and competencies of
each of them? Oddly enough, major corporations and organizations do
a better job of screening job candidates than voters do in vetting
candidates for the job of President of the United States.
Many a pundit has complained that the run for the office of
president has more in common with a beauty contest than it does a
selection of a chief executive, leaving the voters with little to
compare other than candidates' Q rating. That strikes Karl Albrecht
as odd and disturbing.
Albrecht, the author of Social Intelligence: the New Science of
Success and the highly referenced Service America! Doing Business
in the New Economy, says he conceived of using a brain trust of
experts on competencies to identify the traits we should expect in
a president about 30 years ago. He had planned to take input from
as many experts as he could find, boil them down to a few
"macro-traits" and publish them in a sort of voters' guidebook.
People could keep score based on these competencies as advised by
the world's experts on leadership.
His publisher at the time was less than encouraging. Says Albrecht:
"After he listened to the idea, he chuckled and said, 'That's a
great idea. I'll bet I can sell at least 10 copies - including the
ones your mom buys.' I suppose he was right then, but I've never
given up on the idea."
The difference between then and now - the Internet.
"The progressive 'dumbing' of the media culture is, thankfully,
being offset to some extent by the migration of serious thought to
the web," Albrecht explains. "A thriving intellectual climate in
cyberspace may - I believe - be the salvation of the culture of
ideas. We now have a mechanism to tap into the collective wisdom of
our culture, and to make this important knowledge freely available
to anyone who chooses to use it. We can use the 'wisdom of crowds'
principle to help the crowds choose more wisely."
Adds Albrecht: "It struck me as odd that in the business world if
you want to hire an executive, you go through a very extensive
process of what you want that person to be and what you want them
to be capable of doing. Then you might go to a headhunter with a
big list of specifications. Yet we elect people for the highest
office in the land based on their hairdo, an attractive wife, their
charm, or any number of (superficial) reasons. It's the most
irrational process imaginable considering the consequences.
"We are in a state of fatigue when it comes to presidential
elections [in the United States], and we need some sort of
rationality. Our potential candidates are being evaluated on
everything but what counts - their ability to run the country."
As of now, input to Albrecht's site - PickingaPresident. com -
suggests that people are looking for traits that seem rather
appropriate for a president. Trustworthiness tops the list at the
moment. But traits such as intelligence, vision, courage,
cooperation, diplomacy, and open-mindedness are also scoring high.
Where does that leave us? "It leaves us with the realization that
we've mostly been asking the wrong questions," notes Albrecht. "By
framing the questions more intelligently, we may be able to elevate
the narrative that dominates the public discourse leading up to the
Character and competence - we need both
"Once we have the draft performance model, we'll invite a much
larger population of citizens - as many as are willing to play - to
visit the website and vote their opinions on the relative
importance of the various traits and competencies," Albrecht notes.
"They will also be encouraged to contribute additional ideas,
commentary, and information as they see fit. Based on the
comparative ratings, we'll short-list the traits and competencies
into a final set of critical criteria, or "macro-factors." (See
chart.) The panel of experts will shape the final model into clear
and compelling language."
Adds Albrecht: "The question 'Where does he or she stand on the issues?' usually decodes to mean 'What is he or she promising to the various interest groups whose votes are needed to win?' Cynical reporters and political commentators tend to perpetuate this self-centered, narcissistic view of voters by assigning each candidate a 'base' - a social, economic, or ethnic category of people to whom he or she is obligated to appeal. We seem to have long ago given up the notion that the president is the servant-leader to the whole nation, not the panderer to the special interests of the groups most likely to deliver the most votes."