In a recent blog, I wrote about the difference between being President and doing President. I made the point that some candidates for public office are interested in gaining the title and the power but have little or no intention of working hard to achieve results. To actually lead a different direction, to solve particular problems—to actually do the job of President—one has to have the skills and talents to be a change agent. In my latest follow-up post on the topic of leadership dialogue in Election 2016, I provided a list of some of the questions that could help voters understand their approaches to the doing aspects of the Presidency. In the absence of these types of questions being asked to our current Presidential candidates, one must look back at their history and record to discover how they would approach the job and work to get things done. And from my observations so far, this year we have a clear choice between being and doing.
From what we’ve seen from Mr. Trump throughout this race, it’s clear that he enjoys the attention brought upon candidates for the highest office in the country. The idea of being President is something he clearly takes an interest in. Although I do not understand some of his strategies, and he offers very few specifics, his focus seems to be on “winning” and promising more “winning” to the American people. But, given what we’ve seen from him so far, can he do the job?
Though the Presidency brings a high level of authority and influence, one person alone cannot carry out the job. Although Donald Trump seems to be taking more leadership cues from Vladimir Putin than anyone who has ever served as President of the United States, our system of government was not set up for a bully to simply order things done. There are three equal branches of government. Between successfully working with one branch and staying within the Constitution and laws of the other, one cannot simply dictate orders through force of personality—a tactic Trump seems to rely on heavily in his business career. And when it comes to this country’s role in the global community, “tough talk” and offensive rhetoric is no way to gain and work with allies, exercise leadership, and build coalitions to get things done on the world’s stage. Hopefully, in the next four weeks, he will be challenged to tell us just how he plans to work with others to do the job of President.
Hillary Clinton’s challenges are different. Her lifetime of experience and commitment to public service demonstrates her desire to lead change, to do the job. She has a specific plan for most, if not all, of the critical issues we face—even going so far as to outline how she plans to accomplish each objective—and has made these plans accessible to the public for review. It is also clear that she understands the complexities of the role of President. And, from her experiences with the other branches of government as well as her leadership of a large, diverse executive agency with a worldwide presence, her prior jobs have given her opportunities to demonstrate some of the leadership capacities needed to successfully do the job.
The question for her is, how are you going to be successful with a divided country, represented in Congress by two opposing camps who can’t seem to work together on anything? When President Obama was first elected, Republican leadership announced that their number one goal was to see to it that he would not be reelected. If this repeats, the future could be bleak. It will take leadership that focuses on bringing people together, finding areas of agreement, and working beyond barriers and differences—such as party lines, country borders, generations, races, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and differing abilities—to make progress on behalf of the people.
In my view, those will be the leadership challenges that each candidate will face. While I hope that some of these questions will be discussed and answered in the remaining four weeks, I am not holding my breath that the October 9th and 19th debates will in any way focus on the doing of the job. But I will continue to engage this topic, which I believe is critical to our future. And I am hopeful that the winning transition team has given these challenges of doing President a lot of thought and that our soon-to-be new President will refine a leadership and political approach that has a chance of being successful and moving us forward as a nation.