5 criteria for hiring America’s next chief executive

5 criteria for hiring America’s next chief executive
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Election fever is red hot. A half-dozen Democratic hopefuls have declared their candidacy or are about to, and an equal number of Republicans are itching to take up the mantle, if President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE bows out in 2020. We are deluged by articles about likability, positioning, identity politics, intra-party iconography. Some candidate bio-books are out, and one suspects that guidebooks to Iowa and New Hampshire are selling like hotcakes.

Before the frenzy peaks, Americans need to step back from normal campaign noise and ask what criteria we should use to hire a president, the chief executive of our federal government and leader of what still can be called the free world.  


We need to forget the hype and social media manipulation, and vote on solid criteria. “We, the people” are the greatest hiring committee in the world. Here are five hiring criteria we should use.

The first criteria is character. The next president should have all the classical virtues: honesty, integrity, sobriety, charity, generosity of spirit, and a high sense of purpose. He or she must have demonstrated the values of patriotism, selfless service to the nation, and devotion to the general welfare that our greatest presidents have shown.

The second criteria is vision and empathy. Does the candidate see the whole set of problems? Can he or she create comprehensive solutions with fairness for every American? Bonus points go to the candidate who can connect his or her work with the Founders and tie policies to the high-minded ethical principles shaped by our most profound religious traditions.  

The third criteria is education. Today’s problems are complex by any measure. A solid bachelor’s degree is a minimum, with best qualified applicants having advanced degrees. More important than degrees, the next president should be a lifelong learner who uses his or her mind to study issues and come up with creative solutions. John F. Kennedy reminded his cabinet that there are no schools to teach you how to be president, but there are educational and job experiences, as well as habits of the mind, that can help the next chief executive solve complex problems and learn from mistakes.

The fourth criteria is demonstrated experience. There can be no standard list of experiences for candidates, but the next president should have some sort of large-scale managerial experience. Running a legislative office and managing election campaigns are, by themselves, insufficient experience for governing. Being a CEO, a governor, a mayor, or a cabinet officer are the sort of experiences that count the most. We should avoid any candidate who thinks that government should be run like a business. The business of America is business, but the business of the president is government. At the highest level, politics, communications, policy and negotiating are strands of the same rope. The chief executive also is the convincer-in-chief.

The final criteria is knowledge of fiscal, domestic and foreign policy. The next president can’t just be full of good ideas. He or she will need to figure out how to pay for them. Paying down the deficit, or at least capping it, must be central to the party platform. The last two presidents had the luxury of running trillion-dollar deficits. The next one will not.  


The next president should have to have a vision for domestic and foreign policy. The notion that a president can set aside one or the other type of policy or de-prioritize it is false. All of the policy bucks stop at the president’s desk.

At home, in domestic policy, the first priority will be a soon-to-be ailing economy. Immigration reform should be a second priority, but one that balances compassion and security. Health care remains another key policy priority. The next president will have to take us beyond what’s left of ObamaCare. He or she could begin by studying how other advanced nations, such as Germany, achieve excellent health care at a fraction of what Americans pay. Restoring trust in all aspects of government will be a heavy burden for the next chief executive and his or her successors.

In foreign and national security affairs, the president has vast power with fewer checks and balances. The next president, among other things, will have to figure out if the United States is to remain the leader of the free world, or just the biggest dog on the block. Sadly, the next president will inherit all of the foreign and national security problems that exist today. China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran continue to march. No U.S. election can erase that problem set.  

But if we put aside the currents of social media and focus on hiring the best executive talent, our electorate can choose the best from among the many men and women who aspire to the job. There may well be another Roosevelt, Lincoln or Washington running this year. We are due for one.

Joseph J. Collins, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is university professor at the National War College. In his last policy assignment, he was deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations (2001-2004). His nearly 28 years of military service include infantry and armor assignments in the United States, South Korea and Germany; teaching at West Point in the Department of Social Sciences; and more than a decade of policy assignments in the Pentagon.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.]