When I was
in my late 20’s and loving my work as a lawyer/ investment banker for a large
NY investment banking firm, I was summoned suddenly by THE Senior Partner, who
said “Frank, I want you to take over the Investment Management Department.” Our
brief conversation went something like this:
ME: “Thanks, but that is not what I
want to do!”
SP: “I don’t think you heard me
correctly. I was not asking you; I was telling you.”
ME: “If I can continue with my deals
at the same time, and see that what needs to be done actually gets done, I
should consider it.”
SP: “That is
all any good exec ever does. OK and thank you!”
you’re no doubt wondering what on earth this personal story has to with a
first needs to see/establish what needs to be done; set out a process to
address those needs and then follow up sufficiently to ensure that it gets
Presidents have very little time to spread over a large world, and it is
difficult for anyone to do many serious things simultaneously.
the most experienced, well-educated and smartest Presidents cannot possibly
know, or even learn, enough about any one subject to make a useful difference
on a personal level compared with the experts around them.
primary job is to hear out solid well selected advisors, weigh conflicting
opinions and, ultimately, make good choices.
well-kept secret is that most ‘Presidential decisions’ NEVER actually reach the
President. They are thrashed out by the Cabinet and staff experts at lower
levels. When and if a consensus emerges, if the President agrees, that is
promulgated as a Presidential decision.
consensus can be found, then the President is fully informed and has to use
his/her wits to ask a lot of tough questions and come to a final decision.
Presidents must begin by painting in broad strokes, outlining goals and
ambitions on critical issues like taxes, war and peace, tariffs and economic leadership
that his team can use as the framework for developing specific plans.
While I am
not a real expert in how a POTUS does or should work, I have seen it up
closely, read about it a lot and talked to many people who have been far closer
to a working President.
What I have
learned is that the job of a POTUS is more like that of an orchestra conductor
– bringing myriad pieces/instruments, individually insignificant in themselves,
together for a greater purpose. For example, the conductor need not know how to
play the violin, but she does need to know how to make a violinist play the
violin properly in concert with dozens of others, as well as other instruments.
Presidents must be broad gauge managers of large complex processes (like some
Governors and other large institutions), which no one can do well enough
alone, thoughtfully and properly.
of the job, ironically perhaps, should have served as a bulwark against the
worst instincts of our current President. With vast stretches of “executive”
(read, television) time throughout his day, his legendary disdain for
reading, and an apparent allergy to learning, the simple truth is this
President doesn’t deal with real issues seriously very much at all.
our government can largely carry on without him, almost certainly to better
ends than would be achieved by his more active and substantive engagement in
his job. But that is not enough.
reason, I am amazed at how little the new candidates for POTUS talk about how
they would go about the job they are pursuing and mostly know very little
be asking ALL of them a lot of tough questions. If all they have are lame, minimal
answers we should draw a line through them IMMEDIATELY.
candidate who takes the best orchestration approach – who also likes to read
and learn, who values the counsel of experts, and who acknowledges the limits
of their own ability to know and do everything —should be our next President.
and should know what they stand for, whether they have instinctive voter appeal
and whether they are electable.
last and always do they know how to do the JOB!?