Tough Questions for the Presidential Candidates

Think we know everything we need to about McCain, Obama, and Hillary? Leaders from the corporate world, the public sector, and academia talk about the things we don't know

Posted on Conversation Starter: May 19, 2008 4:27 PM

Despite a never-ending primary season, the presidential candidates haven't yet answered crucial questions about their leadership abilities, styles, and philosophies. Last week the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government brought together 200 leaders from the corporate world, the public sector, and academia to discuss the leadership qualities the next president will need in order to face the grave challenges that await him or her.

Here's a selection of questions Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer, former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, former Mayor of Philadelphia Rev. W. Wilson Goode, YouTube news and politics director Steve Grove, and Cheryl Dorsey, president of global nonprofit Echoing Green, would ask if they were interviewing the candidates for the job.

Andrew Card, former chief of staff for President George W. Bush and former vice president, General Motors

• Do you have the courage to be lonely?

• The easiest thing to do in the White House is to attract smart policy advisors. How do we know that you know enough to not just accept what they say?

• Many of the hardest decisions in the White House won't be consensus decisions. What will inform your decision making?

• How will you spend quiet time in anticipation of a tough decision?

• The role requires decisiveness. Share some examples of your ability & willingness to be decisive.

Kevin Sharer, CEO and chairman, Amgen Pharmaceuticals

• Tell us about a high-performing team that you've built. What are the most important principles you'd follow in governing and leading your senior White House team?

• What could cause you to fail as the President?

• How will you gather, evaluate and act on information for all policy decisions?

• In the past, how have you responded to, evaluated and learned from mistakes—your own and those of your team?

• How do you decide whom to trust? How does someone earn your trust?

• How do you really relax and recharge?

• What is your negotiating style/approach/philosophy?

• Tell us about a time when your judgment has been tested in crisis. What do you want us to appreciate about your judgment?

Cheryl Dorsey, president, Echoing Green

• What are the keys to translating your vision for America's future into action?

• Please describe some of your personal tools for dealing with adversity?

• How will you appeal to a diverse set of constituencies in an honest, respectful and inclusive manner?

• Can you share some examples of when you were a catalyst who brought groups with polarized opinions together so that all voices were at the table?

• How will you inspire all federal employees to provide the highest level of service to their customers—the people of the USA?

Steve Grove, head of news and politics, YouTube

• Young people have engaged in this election in greater numbers than ever before. How will you keep them engaged?

• The internet and technology have flattened the political playing field, allowing for collective decision making in new ways. How will you balance our ability to have a more participatory democracy with the need for executive decision-making?

• What are the first three things you're going to do to raise America's confidence once you're in office?

• What is your definition of leadership? What is your overarching purpose as a leader?

• What are the most important qualities and/or skills you look for in the people you want on your senior team?

• How will you create an environment for innovation within your leadership team?

• In what ways will you help Americans realize the challenges we face and do the hard work of overcoming them together?

Reverend W. Wilson Goode, Sr., director, Amachi Program, and former mayor of Philadelphia.

• What do you believe should happen to those close to you when they make an honest mistake?

• Can you give us two or three concrete examples from your past as to how you have helped change the culture of an organization?

• The USA ranks 1st in incarceration and 18th in high school graduation. What leadership skills do you bring to the challenge of reversing these numbers?

• How will you avoid becoming part of the “good old boy” network that has created and is content with the way things are now?

• What experiences have you had that have helped you deeply understand the mindset and values of another culture?

• What are your five core values and how do they shape how you lead?

All the participating leaders voted on their favorites; you can see the top 15 questions here. The Center for Public Leadership plans to work with the media to get these questions asked.

What are the toughest and most revealing questions you've asked or been asked in a job interview? What would you ask the presidential candidates?

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