How would a CEO in the White House change coverage?
by Liz Hester
Recently, I was watching an interview with author Michael Lewis for Reuters TV and he was asked would the president make a good chief executive officer. His response was to turn the question around to would a CEO make a good president. His answer: no because they’re too used to getting what they want and having people follow their orders.
Now, I think Lewis is an incredible writer, but his response is trite and doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the president is actually a CEO position, so it would seem that the characteristics that make you good in the public sector would make you great in the private sector.
Here’s a small list of skills, qualities, and characteristics that work for both jobs:
- Politics: to rise to the top of either political party or a Fortune 100 company, you have to be good at navigating personalities, balancing agendas, reading people and using information to accomplish something. You can be brilliant, but toil away at a mid-level corporate job if you’ve not able to motivate and lead people.
- Decision-making: Both a good CEO and a good president need to be decisive, sometimes there are only seconds to make the call and both need the confidence to not second-guess their choices.
- Informed: There’s a balance between having the facts and getting bogged down in the details. Finding that balance is important for both jobs.
- Delegation: Not the kind you send to India, but being able to hire (and keep) the right people working for you is one of the biggest keys for successful CEOs and presidents. Those who have only “yes people” or isolate themselves from the rest of the organization tend to fail. You have to trust the people around you will get the job done and present you with the right information.
- Communication: you have to value it, make it a priority and be willing to spend the time letting others know your vision, a clear plan for getting there and what the final outcome should be.
And it’s this last point, that brings up an interesting question: Would coverage of politics and the presidency be any different if a CEO held the nation’s top job? Of course much of that depends on personality, but communication is critical to both the running of a good company and the country.
I do think politicians need the media more than executives. To run a successful company, you need to make sure your shareholders, board of directors and employees are informed. The thoughts of the broader public aren’t nearly as important to a CEO as a president since the latter depends on the public for employment.
It’s possible that this would make getting information out of a CEO-run White House harder for reporters, but I doubt it. CEOs are used to complying with securities laws, dealing with regulators and making sure their investors understand their vision. It’s no different explaining foreign policy decisions.
In this age of the constant news cycle and demands of the public for incremental updates, most executives are used to working with reporters to shape coverage. In fact, the best-regarded companies have sophisticated public relations strategies and consider the “reputational risk” associated with every deal, hire or decision. It’s no different than a career politician sitting at the helm of the nation.
While I do see that some CEO-types might have a more closed or guarded approach to the press, the importance of public opinion would likely push them toward standard engagement with the media. Reporters need to accumulate clicks (or in the case of a few, sell papers) but both executives and politicians rely more now on reputation to keep their jobs. And for that, you have to get the information out somehow.