I lost a friend the other day when I described one of his favorite candidates for POTUS as incompetent.

I lose a lot of friends this way.

Sometimes you have to be honest.

He argued that his favorite had a wonderful vision of the future. I suggested leadership is more than a vision. He wasn't paying attention.

He argued that his favorite could bring people together. I suggested leadership is more than bringing people of the same party together. He wasn't paying attention.

He argued that his favorite was a wonderful speaker. I suggested leadership is more than being a wonderful speaker. He then asked, "How do you define leadership?"

Asking questions is an important first step in understanding someone else's point of view. I didn't say this, but that's what I was thinking.

I was looking for a napkin and pen to write something memorable like, "Leadership = Vision plus Execution," but I couldn't find a pen, so I tapped it out on my iPhone. I then said that a great vision without a track record of execution is just hope. That's why I don't like rookies in any job. Having the right vision is immaterial if you can't deliver the results. I then went on to say that execution is the hard part.

When I interview candidates for any type of job I first ask the hiring manager what problems need to be solved and what changes need to be made. I then ask candidates to describe things they've accomplished of comparable scope and complexity.

My former friend then said that on this basis, no one is really qualified to be POTUS since no one has ever handled that big of a job. That's why I said again that I don't like rookies, no matter the vision. But I followed this up by saying the long definition of execution can minimize the risk of hiring the wrong person. By this time our bill had arrived, along with a pen, I wrote this on the back of the receipt:

Successful Execution = correctly figuring out the problem to be solved, getting agreement on a solution, preparing a detailed plan, organizing all of the resources and people needed to implement the plan/solution, inspiring the people involved, and delivering the results as promised.

All of these steps are necessary to deliver on the vision promise.

I suggested this same formula could be used to assess candidates for any job, from camp counselor to POTUS. For each of the components in the execution formula, just ask people to describe a major accomplishment that best demonstrates the person's depth of expertise in that area. Then, dig deep and find out the circumstances involved, the role the person actually played, the people on the team and how they were chosen, the challenges faced, the planning and management process used, if the person was successful or not, the biggest and hardest decisions made, and the process the person used to solve the biggest problems.

If you do this for all of the components of successful execution, you'll know if the person should be seriously considered for the position, POTUS or otherwise.

For the POTUS position, it seems that history shows that governors and generals have been the most successful, since they've had to deal with issues of similar scope, impact, and complexity. Since rookies have no comparable history, there's a huge risk they'll be unsuccessful. However, a key part of the solution is the demonstrated ability to create bipartisan consensus. To me, this is a deal breaker.

My former friend was starting to reconsider his favorite candidate but asked about people who have been senators and/or have led major companies or major government organizations. I responded by saying the experience alone was not enough. They still had to be successful in whatever role they held.

We ended the evening by agreeing that his favorite candidate was unqualified for the role of POTUS but not necessarily incompetent. We didn't agree on who was most competent, though. However, I suggested if all candidates were put through a similar "vision plus execution" leadership assessment, the best would stand out. I then repeated what my first mentor told me:

Vision without successful execution is just a bunch of empty promises.

Execution without a future vision is just more of the same.

Leadership = Vision plus Execution.

You need both to be successful.

Published on: Aug 19, 2015
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