Sunday, September 11th, 2016 | By: Mike Donahue

The Leadership Chops to be POTUS

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I listened to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I drove to the airport on August 26. The journalists on the show held points of view on the left and right of the political spectrum, one side damning The Donald while praising Hillary and the other side reflectively taking the opposite point of view in their discussion.

The panelists were highly regarded journalists working for some of America’s best-known news outlets, people who rub elbows with members of Congress, political movers and shakers and Washington insiders with connections in both campaigns.

The question du jour was whether or not a career businessman is suitably trained to sit in the Oval Office or, if that experience is so other-worldly that the office of the President of the United States should be the exclusive reserve of a career politician with decades of experience in the ways of Washington.

As I cruised west on I-70, the discussion dragged on and on — three, four, five minutes, an eternity for one topic in a one-hour radio news show. I was agitated because I thought they were debating the wrong question. Since our next president will lead a divided country, isn’t leadership, the ability to articulate a vision and mobilize others to support that vision more important than the path the candidate took to their party’s nomination?

Maybe, because I was catching a flight to North Carolina to attend the annual leadership conference at the Thayer Institute the answer seemed obvious to me. Lee Thayer is a no nonsense octogenarian who has spent six decades working with leaders to understand what makes them effective and what causes them to fail. His point of view runs counter to what you’ll read in that long row of books on leadership in the business section of your favorite book store.

Here are four quotes from Dr. Thayer that I wish the voters and the talking heads on the Diane Rehm Show would ponder to understand the qualities we should expect in candidates for the highest office in the land.

  1. 1. “Leaders are had by their cause.” Every leader has a cause that drives them and makes them restless. What’s the cause that grips Hillary and Donald other than their hunger to get elected? Does either of them have a dream for our country? If so what is it?
  2. 2. “Leadership is measured by the consequences of what you do or don’t do.” Measuring consequences creates problems for politicians. During the campaign, they want to please as many voters as possible so they promise the moon. A real leader would select a short list of things they truly intend to do that would propel the country forward and concentrate on that short list. A journalist might ask, “What are the three things you intend to accomplish by the end of your first term?”
  3. 3. “In the end, it is the organization that makes the leader.” Though the president has the bully pulpit, it’s Congress that must do the work. Given this, shouldn’t we hear how the candidates intend to work across the aisle to get the things on their short list voted into law?
  4. 4. “Leadership is about altering the destiny of things.” Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Washington press corps asked the candidates a question like, “How will our country be changed by the end of your first term?”


I didn’t write this blog to praise or damn either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. I wrote it to point out the short sightedness of journalists who report on the candidates. They owe it to us to focus on the important stuff. And is there anything more important than how effective a leader the new president is likely to be? 

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