The upcoming 2008 U.S. presidential elections are widely viewed, both within the U.S. and internationally, as being more important than any in recent history. This provides all of us with a particularly valuable opportunity to re-evaluate the touchstones we use to decide which candidate we will support.

This blog post is the first part of a periodic series exploring those touchstones.

This post identifies two fundamental and intertwined assumptions about candidate selection:

  1. The Issues: The extent to which we believe we need to have a complete and objective grasp of the issues
  2. Candidate Qualities: What we believe are the most important attributes to look for in a candidate

The Issues

The Common Selection Strategy: Most people tend to select candidate based on the extent to which they believe that candidate reflects their positions on the issues they think are most important. This common selection strategy assumes that we as everyday citizens a sufficiently complete and objective grasp of the issues than most people actually have. Politicians count on voters to hold this belief about themselves. They then tailor their messages to reflect what they believe citizens think about the issues.

The Flaw With This Selection Strategy: Today’s world is more complex than it has ever been. This is because: 1) Information has exploded at such a dizzying rate that none of us has a prayer of being able to keep up with everything well enough to fully grasp all the issues; and 2) Humanity is dramatically more interconnected than ever before in history — in terms of communication, economics and environmental impact. It would therefore be pure arrogance for most everyday citizens to assume that do — or even can — grasp societal issues fully enough to legitimately claim that their positions about those issues are "right." Citizens are too often disappointed by politicians because they do not realize that politicians tailor their messages to reflect what citizens think about the issues. Citizens don’t realize that most politicians count on them as citizens to be arrogant about how "right" they are about their positions on issues. This causes politicians to become panderers rather than educators. The plain cold truth is that issues are far more complex than most citizens and virtually all advocacy groups ever want to realize.

The New Selection Strategy:  Since we as citizens can’t possibly know enough about the issues to be confident about the usefulness of our positions about them, and since candidates tend to pander to the positions the public and influential advocates take, the time has come for citizens to make their candidate selections based far less on their professed positions on the issues and far more on other qualities.

Candidate Qualities

The Common Selection Strategy: The candidate qualities that politicians tend to believe citizens look at are their positions on the issues (or their ideology) and their likability. Most politicians want citizens to support them based on their stances on issues. This is why they pander to citizen positions even when they know that the vast majority of the public does not sufficiently understand the complexity of the issues to be able to formulate well-grounded opinions. Politicians figure that if they say what people want to hear then citizens will think the politician cares about them. Politicians also figure that the more they can also come across as likeable down-to-earth folks, they will succeed at manipulating enough citizens to vote for them so that they will win.


The Flaw With This Selection Strategy: We don’t need politicians who are excellent panderers. We need politicians who are superb decision-makers and educators. A candidate’s ability to pander to constituents and their capacity to be made to appear as being likeable have virtually nothing to do with a leader’s true decision-making capabilities. Decision-making capacity depends first and foremost on integrity. Second, it requires them to have an outstanding capacity to separate spin from fact in order to develop a truly complete and objective understanding of the issues. This in part requires a superb ability to select wise and integrious advisors. Third, it requires that they have the personal maturity to be able to discover the intersection between preserving individual freedom and stewarding collective highest good rather than choosing one over the other. Fourth, it requires well-developed synergy skills. It takes true humility to realize that in this age of information overload leaders and decision-makers must become excellent at combining the pieces of the larger picture that they have discerned with the pieces of the larger picture that other leaders and experts have discerned. This kind of synergistic co-creation is dramatically different from the coercion strategies and compromise strategies that leaders are used to using despite the fact that these strategies actually prevent rather than promote true solution-creation. Fifth, politicians need to finally learn how to be excellent educators rather than spin doctors and polarization promoters. They need to develop the courage to inform the public in a complete and objective way about what the public won’t otherwise have a way to know, instead of telling the public what they believe the public wants to hear.

The New Selection Strategy: We as citizens need to become willing to pay close enough attention to these five key politician qualities so we can start selecting whichever politicians we believe are strongest in these qualities independent of their public pandering positions about the issues.

The more you master the material in The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships and Our World in your own life, the better you will become at evaluating these qualities in politicians.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series about how to upgrade the touchstones you use to decide which candidate you will support.