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BW Businessworld

To be a President…

All great Presidents understood that they would ultimately receive the credit for the achievement of their subordinates and hence they went out of their way to find outstanding ones.

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Every President of the United States has a place in history even though every individual President doesn’t make history. Every President reaches that office with effort, perseverance and demonstrated ability. Yet, not every President is great.

I have studied the American presidency over many years to understand crowd psychology, brand building and communication since these are all part of winning and holding that office. My perspective is that of a brand builder, storyteller and student of communication.

In particular, I have researched those who have occupied the office of the President from 20th century and onwards. The list includesTeddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, F.D.Roosevelt or the more recent Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush,Bill Clinton, George.W. Bush, Obama or Donald Trump.


Because the US Presidency occupies a pre-eminent place in world affairs. In the US, no senator or Supreme Court Justice features on currency notes. Holidays are set aside only for great Presidents of the past. The only cachet in American public esteems is for the office of the President. I have been more alert to public perception than academic assessments. No expert is fully objective and no specialist is without bias. The American ‘liberal democratic’ mind set is credentialed but espouses a world view contrary to the one held by a larger percentage of US voters. 

Policy is different from process. Middle of the road policy cannot result in effective execution. Polls, surveys and focus groups cannot read the failure and frustration that an American president may feel. Huge energy is required to push any administration’s program towards achievement. That boldness is what propels an individual President into the gallery of the greats or the immortals. Judge a President on vision, operational abilities and gift of command. Each one has to leave an imprint on foreign affairs and economic policy. We must always ask what did they do for the safeguarding of human rights and liberty, proactive environmental action and protection of institutional space?

Like every other power centre, Washington is an Olympics of ongoing political game. The game is glorious and uplifting but also aggravating and chaotic. It cannot be played using text book precepts. Moreover, old truisms have changed dramatically. There is a stunning transformation of the way the American system of government operates in a highly polarised environment. Be it congressional assertiveness, the power of staff and institutions, the rise of television and social media, the merchandising of candidates or the explosion of special interest politics. The demands of political fundraising and the marshalling of governing coalitions has led to a transformation. Power does not reside in the office of the President but flows to it readily if a skilful incumbent can tilt the balance towards himself. The rise of massive corporate power and the singular challenge from China have changed the game. New players and new game plans are throwing it wide open. It is harder to manage and manipulate.

Being at the apex of the power structure in the United States of America is a serious enterprise. The world looks for substance where substance matters. Issues, ideas and directional initiatives matter most and are vitally important to holding Presidential power. Substance and stratagem are intertwined. It is a world which is moved by naked self-interest. It is a continuous contest, a scramble for power and influence. Nevertheless it is about the person. It is not a faceless power.

So what are the watch out signs of a good choice?

There are characteristics that voters can see while deciding amongst Presidential aspirants because they are predictive of which candidate may be more likely to succeed. These are traits that are shared by the most successful of Presidents with higher achievements. Firstly, one has to look out for a sense of purpose. Secondly broader life experiences and exposure to multiple occupations and life circumstances help a person go through the school of hard knocks and employ these lessons while running their administration. It is critical to possess a will to persevere and an ability to negotiate. The complexity of the world cannot be grasped by one man through learning in a political career of a few decades. Therefore, the ability to learn and be willingly tutored by specialists is very important. Organisational skill and self-discipline is required to be a man of all seasons. A President has to be an orchestrator of diverse institutions and lead via persuasion to be truly effective. 

Those who are loved, keep their egos in check. It is critical that there be enough humility to be able to surround oneself with experienced, knowledgeable, intellectually superior advisers. 

All great Presidents understood that they would ultimately receive the credit for the achievement of their subordinates and hence they went out of their way to find outstanding ones.

Lastly, but above all, a well-developed sense of integrity is sine qua non. Whenever the heart and mind deviate from a sense of morality, disaster follows.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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us president barack obama donald trump joe biden

Shubhranshu Singh

The author is a global marketer, story teller, brand builder, columnist, and business leader. His interests include studying social change, impact of technology on consumer lives, understanding young consumers, history and politics.

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