Choosing a CEO of the USA – POTUS?

June 8, 2020

by Chris Swan

Eight criteria to help inspire you to consider first what is needed in a leader of the free world and how these might play out in real life.

Selecting a leader to steer our country is an important decision, but it can be hard to make the right decision with all the opinions and hyperbole humming around us. Everything seems compounded with an endless news cycle, a gyrating stock market, and a pandemic disrupting everything in our lives.

I’ve been in the executive search business for more than 25 years – helping companies define their requirements, identify top candidates, and evaluate the fit. Our focused strategy allows us to help customers see around corners and make better decisions. The cost of an executive hiring error can be tremendous with the estimates running from 10 to 15 times the cost of the direct compensation to that individual, and these costs escalate the higher up you go in the leadership ranks.

My colleagues and I start every assignment by defining the criteria needed for the company to hire the right candidate. We challenge their assumptions, refine what is essential, and isolate what is nice-to-have. We want to understand what is unique and exciting about the position and why an individual will be happy and energised by the roll. We do this before we start approaching individuals and develop them as candidates.

So, what do we know about the President of the United States (POTUS)?

What is this role?

Think about it. It is a crazy role. Maybe in the 18th century, changing out the chief executive officer of the country every four years seemed like a good idea. Furthermore, selecting any citizen who happens to win 270 electoral college votes seems foolish to our modern, business-savvy sensibilities. We should note that the United States is a country of 328 million people, and its federal government has a budget of nearly five trillion dollars, with more than two million employees, vendors, and contractors.

However, the amateur nature of our President is foundational to our republic. It was Winston Churchill who said, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” (11/11/1947) [1]. It is a testament to the American culture and spirit that we have elected such amazing leaders in most of our past 58 presidential elections. It is also fair to point out that our system government only survives and effectively supports our country because of its underlying bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that stabilises and de-risks the amateur nature of the President and the inevitable transition between amateurs.

In our work, we talk a lot about de-risking the selection process and thus shrinking the costs of a miss-hire. So what skills and abilities does it take to be a successful President of the United States (POTUS)? How should voters (deciders) evaluate presidential candidates? According to John O. Burdett, President of ORXESTRA™ [2], you can break these ideas into the four Ds :

  1. How a candidate sets the direction for the organisation. Direction
  2. How a candidate delivers with discipline in the direction. Delivery
  3. The character and emotional range that runs through a candidate. Development
  4. How a candidate communicates these ideas to others. Day-to-Day Dialogue

After the past decade, I don’t believe that we can easily strip away the red and the blue team jerseys. Still, I think that most people can at least agree on a standard set of leadership competencies on which to evaluate Presidential candidates.

Based on polls, 90% of us will assess a particular candidate based on the colour of our jersey, but maybe these criteria will help us consider the people behind the jersey colour. It is also likely that you will think about this criterion by visualising the current or most recent occupants of the office. However, do your best to focus on the leadership competencies and consider what are the most essential. In our business, we often ask, “What will thrill you a year from now?” ORXESTRA™ has 60 criteria, and if you want a deeper dive into a leadership position, please feel free to give me a call.

Eight Criteria

Below are eight ideas, two in each of the four leadership sections. Consider this checklist to help you chose our next POTUS:

Direction – Where the organisation is going:

  1. Quick to Act – Quick to read the situation and take action when careful analysis leads to 70% certainty. Thoughtfully changes direction when the underlying thesis change. Eliminates bureaucracy and holds results as sacred.
  2. Global Understanding – Understands that the world is a series of interconnected countries and interests. Politically savvy and leverage other countries’ political interests to maximum effect for the USA.

The Discipline of Delivery – How to execute on the direction:

  1. Builds Constituency – Inspires those whose support is needed to perform. Builds win-win partnerships with others. Transforms change into a compelling story. Leads beyond her base and pulls the country together.
  2. Comfortable with Ambiguity – Understands risks and builds readiness. Simplifies and compartmentalises. Sees the big picture and adapts to the most pressing challenges. Balances speed of action with foresight and a focus on outcomes.

The Heart – Where the passion for delivery comes from:

  1. Listens, Really Listens – Listens in the way the speaker wants to be heard. Focuses on the ideas and the meaning and transcends the delivery. Patient, thoughtful, and learns from each interaction. The power of concentration directs the speaker.
  2. Values-Driven – Lives the values of the country. Makes those values the values of the organisation. Demands no less of each team member. Selects leaders that will deliver on those values and conversely separates leaders who do not live up to the organisation’s values.

The Spirit – How ideas are expressed:

  1. A Leader Who Inspires – Breathes life into the emerging culture. Draws even the most cynical to the cause and creates a sense of purpose. Dreams big and then establishes achievable deadlines.
  2. Emotional Intelligence – Outstanding inter- and intrapersonal skills. Shapes positive emotions in those on the team or throughout the country. Considers how best to engage with friends and foes positively.

Contemplating our choice

Hopefully, these eight criteria will inspire you to consider first what is needed in a leader of the free world and how might these play out in real life. Maybe you will substitute your own criteria, but hopefully, you can think beyond the colour of your jersey to consider what is most important in a President. At least for me, looking at our presidential election as a job search clarifies our objective as a voter. Hopefully, it will help you, and may the best candidate win.

1] Winston Churchill. Org: ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’ Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

2] ORXESTRA™, John O. Burdett is the founder and owner of the ORXESTRA method. TRANSEARCH International is the licensee of this tool for use on executive search assignments. Further information my be found at

This article is © TRANSEARCH USA and was originally published on the TRANSEARCH USA website.

Chris Swan is a Managing Director with TRANSEARCH International, co-founder of the Chicago office, and Global Practice Leader for Design, Construction, Technology and Environmental. He is a top executive search professional in the area of general contracting, environmental consulting, systems integration, cyber-security, digitisation, and new technologies. Firms value Chris' advice because of his understanding of the markets and what it takes to succeed in business. He attracts candidates when others cannot. Get in touch with Chris Swan »

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