Hiring a Leader

The best way to avoid having a bad leader is not to hire a bad leader – not to bring on a bad leader in the first place. Of course, in many if not most situations who leads is out of our control. In the workplace, for example, most of us have no say in who leads or even manages. However, in liberal democracies we do have a voice. Might not be much of a voice but a voice – a vote – it still is. Which raises the question of what we do with that vote.

It is widely agreed even now that former president Donald J. Trump will be ranked by experts as the worst president, by far, in American history. Which raises another question: how did he become president in the first place? Obviously, he became the nation’s chief executive because though he never won most of the popular vote, in the 2016 election he won enough electoral votes to put him over the top. Americans always complain about the deficits of the electoral college, but they seem, so far anyway, incapable of doing anything about it. Further, in the 2020 election, notwithstanding Trump’s dismal track record as president, he still, famously, infamously, got some 74 million Americans to vote for him for a second term.

When we set out to hire a doctor or a lawyer, or for that matter a plumber or an electrician, we generally do so with caution and care. We might ask around, or maybe go online, to get someone who comes well recommended. Whose track record is of someone reasonably competent and honest. We would, in other words, want a doctor or plumber who is not a total novice. Similarly, a lawyer or electrician who is not a shyster or grifter.  

Somehow, though, when it comes to hiring a leader – in this case voting for president – our usual standards sometimes bite the dust. Last presidential election those 74 million Americans voted for a candidate who demonstrably was neither competent nor honest. In other words, their standards for hiring a leader were far below those they would ever use for hiring a doctor or a lawyer, a plumber or an electrician.

The implications of this are serious. In fact, as the deaths of over 400,000 Americans from Covid-19 attest, they are, or at least they can be deadly serious. What is to be done? How to educate Americans to the fact that their criteria for hiring a political leader should be the same as their criteria for hiring anyone else – competence and character? Two steps come immediately to mind. The first is to reintroduce into American schools, beginning at an early age, a considered and consistent civics curriculum. The second is to mobilize the leadership industry to set standards for leaders. Standards that attest to the rigorousness of leaders’ education and training, and their experience

The practice of leadership should, in short, mimic the practice of the professions – and the vocations. Would you hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to treat you for cancer? Would you hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to fix your toilet? If not, why hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to run the country?    

Whatever might be his deficits, about Joe Biden there is this to be said. He’s a pro. He’s been in the business of politics for many years. He’s had many previous leadership posts. And as near everyone who knows him concurs, he is a man who is decent.              

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