Politicians are frequently tell us what they would do if elected. We'd do well to press them on how they'd do it.
Shortly before the campaign for the GOP nomination began, I chatted with Nels Olson, a vice chairman at the executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, about how Americans pick their presidents. "Mr. Olson has advised many clients through challenging management transitions," his bio states. "Over the past 17 years, he has completed in excess of 500 successful searches for a wide range of Fortune 500 companies, associations and non-profit organizations." A president and a CEO are different, of course, but I figured that successfully choosing leaders in private enterprise might have something to teach us about picking presidents.
What I remember most vividly from our conversation is Olson's insight that the focus among political candidates is often on what they'll endeavor to do if elected, whereas a CEO candidate, brought in for an interview, is inevitably pressed not just on what he or she would accomplish, but how it would be accomplished. Recruiters and boards of directors aren't looking for the best assertion of strategy so much as the candidate most likely to successfully lead the organization. Would she be able to implement her vision? How would he win over stakeholders? Would her leadership style prove polarizing? What was his backup plan?