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Testing questions for presidential hopefuls


While America's prospective 44th presidents have spent upwards of half a billion dollars trying to make the case that they alone are worthy of votes, Ken Blanchard Companies contend that little is known about their leadership credentials.

Along with The Centre for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy School, the company asked 200 leadership academics, government, corporate and non-profit leaders, what job interview style questions Barak Obama and John McCain should be asked as a matter of urgency. Whittled down to 15 main strands, questions include how Barak and McCain would build a team, make decisions, engage their followers, implement change and treat their allies and adversaries.

“We need to put an exceptional leader in the White House right now,” says Ken Blanchard, Founder and Chairman of The Ken Blanchard Companies. “Personally I’d like to ask the Presidential candidates about their vision for the country, where they see the country going and how they are going to get us there – a standard question in business for any prospective CEO or company president.”

David Gergen, Director of the Centre for Public Leadership argues that the ‘job interview’ scenario is valid because in a business situation, we know leaders impact the employee engagement, productivity and bottom line, particularly in troubled times.

“What kind of leaders they are will impact the ability of Congress to get things done,” he says. “And if Barak or McCain fail to demonstrate the qualities necessary to save a sinking company, how can they expect to lead America out of a looming recession?”

A video summarising the panel’s meeting and further information on the issue can be found at

The 15 questions compiled by the panel convened by The Ken Blanchard Companies and the CPL are:

  • 1. Values: What are your five core values and how do they shape how you lead?

  • 2. Attributes & Competencies: What are the attributes and competencies you value most in yourself that will serve you well in the White House?

  • 3. Weaknesses & Mistakes: Recent American history has many examples of leaders whose weaknesses brought them down. What are your tendencies that could cause your presidency to fail?

  • 4. People I Have Learned From: What historical figure has exercised leadership in a way that you aspire to? What were their strengths? Tell us about a situation that tested their leadership.

  • 5. Multicultural Experience/World View: What experiences have helped you deeply understand the mindset and values of other cultures?

  • 6. Building a Team: Tell us about a high performing team that you’ve built. What made it high-performing?

  • 7. Coalition Building: 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?

  • 8. Increasing Participation I: The internet and technology have flattened the political playing field, allowing for more participation and collective decision making. How will you create a more participatory democracy and give people the opportunity to influence decision making?

  • 9. Increasing Participation II: Young people have engaged in this election in greater numbers than ever before. Please give us some examples of how you have listened and responded to the next generation in your campaign. How will you keep the next generation engaged?

  • 10. Decision Making Style: The president’s role requires decisiveness. Please share some examples of your ability and willingness to be decisive. Can you tell us about a time when a lack of decisiveness got you into trouble? In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

  • 11. Judgment: Tell us about a time when your judgment was tested in crisis. What do you want us to appreciate about your judgment?

  • 12. Leading Change: Can you give us an example of how you have overcome resistance to bring about a needed change?

  • 13. Innovative Thinking: How will you create an environment for innovation within your leadership team?

  • 14. Building the Confidence of Others: What are the first few things you’ll do to raise confidence at home and abroad?

  • 15. Priorities Indicative of Values: The USA ranks 1st in incarceration and 18th in high school graduation. What leadership skills and values do you bring to the challenge of reversing these numbers? Can you point to three things in your past that will help us understand that you care about this challenge?
  • Related story: Obama is a leader, Clinton is a manager.


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