Dear Mr. President (Elect),
Congratulations on your election into office! I’ll bet the thrill of victory seems like a distant memory already.You’ll be coming into power under difficult circumstances: For the first time in 40 years the country is at war during a presidential transition, retail sales in October slumped 2.8% (the largest decline since 1992), the Senate is considering extending $25 billion in loans to the auto industry (not to mention the billions designated for the financial sector bailout), OPEC slashed production quotas by 1.5 million barrels a day at the end of October – an action that had minimal effect on falling oil prices.The list of crises and resultant emergency measures goes on and on.
Given the calamities occurring on almost every front, I think it my duty as a citizen to help provide you with a realistic job preview. In a leadership role like yours, you can expect to be deluged with data, figures, trends, information, theories, and opinions from a wide variety of experts. You probably already have been. Know, however, that you’re not alone. Leaders from all walks of life experience this barrage. Because they can’t possibly be everywhere at every moment, they have no choice but to rely on information from others. At first, this dependence can be unnerving. After all, you (like other senior leaders) have ascended to your position based on your individual skills . . . your ability to locate and process information, your communicative aplomb, your intellectual horsepower.
When leaders get to the point that they can no longer survey the informational landscape alone, they must develop one of the most under-acknowledged but critical leadership competencies: the ability to discern. Discern what? Good information from bad, reliable sources from unreliable ones, priorities from nuisances, competence from incompetence, realism from hype, and so forth. When leaders are good at discerning, we take the results for granted. Organizations (or nations) work smoothly because sound decisions are made at all levels. When they’re bad at it, the results are the stuff of despair. Mediocrity becomes the pathetic stunt double for excellence, crises overshadow priorities, and people shake their heads in disbelief at the quality of decisions.
Here’s the irony. Discernment belongs to the social sphere. Each of the standards above (i.e., what is good, reliable, or a priority) is determined in and through communication with others. That’s why you’ll need to surround yourself with others who will tune in, tell the truth, and argue. These actions will shape the standards of your presidency.
So, Mr. President, I hope you’re able to find some time to tune up your BS detector (and those of your Cabinet members) prior to your arrival in the White House. You’re going to have a lot of people coming at you with a lot of information. You’ll need those radars in top shape to make the best decisions. Let me know how I can help.