Every President after Ronald Reagan was either a student of Harvard or Yale. An interesting fact no doubt, but aside from a prestigious degree from a prestigious University, what traits and Leadership Qualities would your little one need to have to be a well prepared President?
Certainly this examination need not only apply to young future POTUS’, but also to anyone in search of answers for what it takes to be a powerful and effective leader. After all, what other leadership position has perennially been considered the apex of Leadership as much as POTUS?
Charisma and impeccable work ethic are two traits that immediately come to mind, but Charisma, while it can be taught, requires several other traits to stay intact and a bit of luck. Work ethic can be purchased for the most part (think campaign managers, feet on the street and Chief’s of Staff, etc.), so it won’t be in this discussion at length. Suffice it to say, without at least the appearance of these two traits, no one would be considered for President of the United States.
What does the public at large and corporate America think a POTUS must have to effectively run the country?
A President of the United States will surely need to be an effective public speaker; more than that, they must be an excellent storyteller. It is often through rhetoric and delivery that the pivotal moments in an election or a political career for that matter, are defined. The most feared scenario (according the to modern legend) is public speaking, but any potential President will need to appear polished and be able to deliver an incredible speech (though, most likely, they will not be expected to write that speech).
If you look back at the best speeches-as rated by numerous “studies” of the past two centuries, you will find that those that evoke emotion and strong patriotism were the ones that won out. Interestingly, the pattern of acceptance by the public at large for verbal communication changes over the years. Without question, the more recognizable speeches that caused world-changing events were not “timeless” speeches. They applied contemporary methods to time specific issues and utilized historically viable methods to tell the story.
Additionally the best speakers are able to both whip up the constituents into a fever, and simultaneously portray poise, control and confidence. Think of Winston Churchill’s (arguably the most effective orator in politics in the prior century), and one of his memorable speeches where he and the rest of Britain were in a poor position and needed allied support, but refused to back down or appear weak. He deftly approached the scenario with these words:
“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”
In a single statement, he has presented England as a power that would never cede to Germany, and yet, positioned his country as a prime candidate for support from the much larger United States, as well as evoking powerful ideas and even more powerful imagery. This is a single moment in a speech full of impeccable delivery and powerful words.
One might also find Martin Luther King’s evocative and rhetoric heavy speeches inspiring, forthright and effective, if placed beside any famous speech in history. Of particular note is this verbal communication:
“I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ … How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The emotion and singularly uniting ideals portrayed in this statement were every bit as powerful as “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, or the infamous “I have a dream” deliveries.
Both Men mentioned above were not United States Presidents, but both captured the hearts and passions of America and indeed the entire world when they delivered their speeches. The Leadership skills they possessed include many on this list. Your son or daughter would do well to develop the same types of delivery capabilities and strong passionate speech that these two had.
At least for now, the Constitution still defines what we believe as a collective people regarding our overall goals and aspirations in liberty. Any presidential candidate would need to be very familiar with these founding documents, and perhaps even with the transitions that have taken place over the years regarding the amendment process and landmark legal cases. Additionally, it would be prudent to have a good working knowledge of the Federalist Papers and other such resources (things like Bastiat’s The Law, Paine’s Common Sense and Locke’s Two Treatises…).
A grasp of foreign insight and our allies’ and enemies’ versions of America’s history would be a specific set of knowledge that might also prove invaluable. Not everyone shares the same history books with America. Knowing what to expect might keep your little future President from getting caught off guard.
If there is something in the United States Constitution that doesn’t make obvious sense and yet remains within the text, it’s clear this stuff applies to some facet of the society and that they hold it near and dear to their hearts. Knowing why that is, will prove an important preparation. Talking to the two or three (if they are available) generations before you might also be excellent preparatory work as they will be able to verify or challenge the literary versions of what was happening when they were younger.
Knowing what your selected target constituencies consider normal and of value is also important.
Most of the gifted individuals I know are rarely asked to listen once it’s been discovered they can speak well. But it would be a prudent course of study, for one courting the Presidency to have developed the knack for genuine listening and subsequent action. It’s more than listening, surely, as the people will expect implementation and capability, but listening can go a long way for a President of the United States.
Firstly, the staff a President requires will constantly be feeding that President a stream of information and looking for a path to run on. An effective leader must have leadership qualities that include listening, effective decision-making and quick reactions. Many of the decisions will already be presupposed and presented with an agenda behind them from staff members, but ultimately: “the buck stops with the President”. He or She will need to be able to understand what they are hearing, look for clues that require additional investigation and make decisions on the fly to ensure that things go smoothly.
Secondly, while campaigning, especially in areas where partisan politics run in favor of the other candidate(s), the potential POTUS must be able to show genuine concern and heartfelt empathy for those he or she will encounter on the campaign trail. Without excellent listening skills, the candidate will quickly be dismissed (by potentially large swaths of society) as self serving and disinterested. As the presidency matures, the President might be wanting to shift to building a lasting legacy while in office; this is where listening to those you trust will come in handy, as they will literally be serving up softballs for you to hit out of the park. You, as President of the United States of America, will need to know how to deal with those pitches.
Charles Schwab said this (he was one of the original steel industry management titans): “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.”
It was for this talent that Schwab was among the highest paid managers of his day. A President must be convincing. They must be graceful. A president must be able to inspire an eager want in the people’s hearts and minds to champion the ideology campaigned on, or that which they hope to carve their legacy out of.
Benjamin Franklin, a man that many considered equally capable to lead a Young America as George Washington, said this: “Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.” It was this optimism that endeared Mr. Franklin to so many. It was this social capital he had built from such behavior in France, so as to be able to adroitly handle discussions with the French for money to fund the war and discussions of peace with the British. Such skills would come in handy for a future president.
Both of these men (Schwab and Franklin) could have made serious bids for the Presidency in their time. It was the aforementioned traits, which made them among the most beloved men in industry and politics/foreign affairs respectively.
A President will no doubt be required to pass along some of his duties and to employ specialists in certain positions to ensure the right jobs gets done in the right way. A future POTUS would be well served to understand the nuances of delegation, leading through example and oversight.
Being confident is an important trait that must be developed. But it is important that those preparing to be an incredible leader use Leadership Qualities like these to inspire within themselves a purer sense of the talent. Instead of simply possessing confidence, one should be self-assured because they ARE right, not simply because they must appear to be. A confident leader who can stand by the stance they take and can back it up with cold hard facts is one that will inspire confidence in the public body.
As the leader of the Free world, there will be many cases where other leaders or critics will catch you off guard. One must be able to think outside of the box to be able to counteract the effects of this situation. Furthermore, on a deeper level, Presidents are not elected to carry out the other guy’s agenda, they must be able to think for themselves and produce real results in the face of exceptional challenges. Being creative in the solutions will allow you more social capital, a more loyal audience and room for improvement without the risks of stagnancy.
I’ve long been convinced that the Presidency is a series of never ending projects rather than simply a job to be performed. There is nothing predictable about leading the most powerful nation in the world. Thus, one must be prepared for a bevy of new challenges and prepare for the almost daily need for new takes on old situations and new ideas to solve problems which still require solving. An understanding of project management will give a person the Leadership qualities needed in a variety of settings for a relatively low cost of skill acquisition. Remember, you need not know it all as President, nor do you need to be the only performer or producer, but you must understand the necessities of the jobs you will govern and the people you will oversee.
Regarding the oversight of people. Surely, as President you will find yourself in polite company more often than not, but there will always be the potential for deep seated and seething, festering contention among those who you work with. Knowing how to resolve simple human resources issues will help you to maintain your standing in your people’s eyes and help you to reassure yourself that you’ve “got this handled”.
All presidents falter. All presidents disappoint. All presidents start out with the best of intentions and then, can’t quite pull the trigger when it’s necessary to stick to their guns on a specific notion. A future president must know when to stick to their convictions and follow through on promises made and similarly, when to admit that the best thing for America is to avoid taking too hard a line. A president should be awe-inspiring, surely, but they must also be realistic, honest and trustworthy. A president must be able to look the people in the eye and tell them, without hesitation that they have applied the treatment the people required and desired.
Having Business experience at the highest level (it need not be with a fortune 100 company necessarily) will give unique insight to a President. It will allow them to have been in a position that requires giving wholly of themselves for the betterment of an idea, an entity, a cause. It will allow them the foresight to find the potential problems and the agility to handle the small concerns before they become larger ones. Having skin in the game will help to mold the Leadership Qualities than a President will need to run a country of 315 Million people (plus).
Knowing how to work with multiple big egos at the same time, and still accomplish the end game, will also prove a valuable Leadership Quality. Knowing how to accept the differences and celebrate the similarities of a team will help build a future President’s flexibility and experience base. Knowing how to handle small conflicts and how to maneuver through successes without over-indulging will also be helpful to a potential president of the United States.
While this last “Leadership Quality” is less a skill than it is a resource, it is equally valuable to a President. A POTUS must have someone who they can count on and who can offer insights about life, and give wisdom because of their vast experience not yet gained by that President. It may be a Grandfather (as it was in my case so many times) or a mother. An older Brother or a Teacher; it might be a former president who has only recently been formally introduced, but it must be someone who is trusted and who is able to stare into the eyes of the presidential candidate on the night of the first botched speech or poor showing in a poll and inspire confidence, express wisdom and encourage the best level of performance and integrity from you, your little one or your neighbor (whoever this was written for).
These traits form a fundamental base upon which the subtle nuances of a great man or woman can be refined again and again. The fire of the critics will forge a stronger person; the intensity of the flame will temper the man or woman that will, perhaps one day, lead this country further into greatness. For this is an office which has had many great men within it; it will surely have many great men and Women in the future.
In the end, most of these traits can be developed over the course of different life experiences, but a good set of morals, an even temper and great hair doesn’t hurt if you’re looking to run for President.