- - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

“It’s all about management.”

— Donald Trump

Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is weighing in on the presidential race in a profound way, calling for a “bipartisan screening committee that vets presidential candidates like we do anyone else applying for a job and recommends the best candidates possible.” Mr. Pickens has never flirted with running for president himself, but he has been known to influence the outcome in previous elections.

Perhaps he sees the success of his fellow billionaire Donald Trump as a threat to the process. When Mr. Trump was asked how he proposed to register Muslims in the United States, citizen and non-citizen alike, in a national database to track their every move, his response was “effective management.” We can surmise this also is his answer for how he foresees rounding up and herding millions of people across the Mexican border.

Every successful businessman knows the importance of effective management. And it’s not surprising that a businessman would approach government problems the same way.

When you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. In fact, the conservative mantra over the past 50 years has been that governments ought to run like businesses — a good point given all of the inefficiencies inside government programs.

But government is not a business, and management is not leadership. Though a keen managerial eye might be important for our nation’s top executive — pushing to rid government programs of waste and fraud — leadership is the primary role of the American presidency and its commander in chief.

So Mr. Pickens raises a valid point. Let’s vet these potential presidents the same way a company would vet its next chief executive.

Mr. Pickens knows that large companies, like the ones he has run, have plenty of managers, but they can only have one true leader. He should know that, right now, there is a way for voters to determine — based on proven criteria and evaluated by highly credentialed and accomplished individuals — who among the presidential candidates is the most principled leader.

It’s the process conducted by the Leadership Project for America (LPA). The organization has an exhaustive process for examining and grading the candidates, and includes experts from a wide variety of policy disciplines whose names are kept private so they can grade and evaluate independently. How does Donald Trump score on that scale? He gets an F.

Mr. Pickens’ critique of the GOP primary race is correct: “Right now we have a process that emphasizes accusation and innuendo,” he notes. “Fact-checking is done after the fact. And just like reality TV, there is too much of an emphasis on the inconsequential and the irrelevant. Such a vetting process could alleviate much of that.”

Exceedingly well said and I couldn’t agree more.

Solid American political leadership is about inspiration, not desperation. It’s about seeing around corners in an increasingly dangerous world, not simply about managing crises or cleaning up messes after the fact.

Beyond inspiration, effective political leaders display three primary qualities: Principles, character and effectiveness. Whether left or right of the political spectrum, principles matter. Among Republican contenders, principles of free markets, a strong national defense and American exceptionalism should be most important. Those priorities are not management principles. Those are leadership principles.

Character, too, is a matter of leadership, not management. When Americans think of character in their political leaders, they think of consistency, ethics and moral compass. Do they keep their promises? Do their actions match their words?

If they must compromise, can they do so with principle? What about their integrity? Are they “dealmakers” or drivers of bold ideas? Managers make the trains run on time. Leaders address the “why,” not the “how.”

Both good managers and great leaders must be effective. Do they unite or divide people?

The most principled politician might not be very effective. Several candidates may, indeed, be principled, but they rarely accomplish great things. Likewise, political accomplishments alone are not the gold standard of effectiveness. A principled and effective political leader moves bold ideas with political skill within key strategic coalitions and then communicates those ideas with clarity and simplicity.

With a little more than a month to go before the first votes are cast in Iowa, and still a dozen or so candidates to sift through, we encourage voters to avail themselves of a vetting process created with them specifically in mind. The 2016 presidential campaign cycle is providing them with new opportunities to gauge candidates on the most important criteria for the next commander in chief: principled leadership. The results may not mirror Washington’s conventional wisdom but then again, look how far that’s gotten us.

Paul Mero is CEO of Leadership Project for America.

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