Opinion: Why Would Any Self-Respecting CEO Want to Be President?

Research into how the federal government actually functions would scare anyone off.

2. Start with your vision of where you want to end up. Decide what you are trying to accomplish for the American people and what key themes you want to emphasize before setting your agenda. The transition period is the time to refine the goals set during the campaign and then ruthlessly prioritize those that will define your tenure.

3. Focus on the next three years, not just the first 100 days. From the start, striking a balance between near-term and long-term impact is important. The media will make you feel like your success is determined in a sprint over the first 100 days. Inevitably, you will hear invocations of Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days, when he pushed through the legislative agenda that defined the New Deal. You will want to score a few quick wins that signal your priorities and demonstrate your ability to achieve them. As Convergys CEO Andrea Ayers has noted, it is important to stay focused on what matters and for “your early wins [to] tie back to your major goals.”

4. Act boldly. CEOs that make four or more strategic moves in their first two years tend to outperform similar organizations and stay longer than their more hesitant counterparts. Despite the constraints of government, successful leaders must take risks and act as boldly as the operating environment will allow.

“A government leader or CEO’s job is to explain the organization to the world, and to explain the world to the organization.”

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Effective CEOs in transition understand their unique strategic role as communicators. To mobilize your organization, you will need to set clear landmarks that will guide its everyday actions. Leonard Schaeffer, who was the founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint, and has diverse public-sector experience at the state and federal levels, emphasizes that “a government leader or CEO’s job is to explain the organization to the world, and to explain the world to the organization.”

6. Build a team that will support and challenge you—and help you deliver. Build a top team with trusted hands and new faces. While new leaders understandably want (and often need) to bring in people they know and trust, many leaders fail because they are too insular and resistant to including outsiders in key decision-making processes.

7. Surround yourself with diversity. Research from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to see superior performance measured by average financial returns.

8. Welcome thoughtful internal critics. In any organization, and particularly in government, there is a natural tendency to rely upon a trusted inner circle. Sometimes this is by necessity, such as with national-security challenges where only those with a need to know can be included. But often the circle of dialogue reflects the emotional and psychological pressures of the senior-level jobs themselves.

9. Make tough decisions on personnel as early as possible. While there may be less flexibility in removing staff from government agencies, cabinet secretaries and agency leaders retain the power to adjust who is tasked with what responsibilities.

10. Recruit ‘doers’ as well as policy experts. There is a temptation in government to hire a team of the best thinkers and policy experts, rather than those focused on internal management or the implementation of policy. Developing policy initiatives is indisputably important—it is why we have elections and where you will undoubtedly spend much of your time. But a good management and operating team is also essential. John L. Thornton, executive chairman of the board at Barrick Gold, emphasizes that “a leader needs to ensure that government gets more ‘doers.’


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