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Lifestyle

September 29, 2012

Slate: 4 crucial qualities a president needs

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Maybe there is a better way to evaluate our presidential candidates, and come to more reliable conclusions about which ones are likely to have the skills actually required for the job.

Al Gore once suggested that running for president was like a job interview. But suppose the current presidential campaign were an extended job interview, conducted by the American people. Candidates are so guarded, the hiring committee would have little to go on. He speaks a great deal but says so little. All I really know is that he loves this company and thinks its best days are ahead of it. He thinks the head office in D.C. is out of touch with customers. Great teeth. No applicant would ever get a job giving the vague answers our candidates do.

The usual proposed remedy for the sorry state of our presidential campaigns is more focus on the issues. That's important to learn what a candidate believes, to see if he can set priorities, and to judge whether he has the candor to say it out loud. But it's not enough for a president merely to have a position. He has to have the skill necessary to follow through on his promises and translate his position into policy.

Another idea for improving campaigns is to focus more on the character of candidates, which may get us closer to understanding how they would operate in the Oval Office. That's also a promising notion, but the way we end up judging candidates' characters is pretty silly — by looking for press conference gaffes, dissecting the meals they ate when they were young married couples, or assessing the way they play basketball.

So here's a thought: What if we approached presidential campaigns the way a large corporation approaches its search for a new chief executive? The purpose of the campaign would be to test for the skills and attributes actually required for the job. Companies such as McDonald's and Target do this even at the junior levels. Applicants are asked questions like "Tell us about a conflict at work you helped resolve" and "What's the biggest obstacle you overcame?" The qualities employers are seeking are the same ones voters should be looking for in presidential candidates: initiative, experience, creativity and problem solving.

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