Six Rules For the President-Elect

If you somehow missed the election news this week, we can inform you that Barack Obama was reelected president.

We were not blogging in this fashion during the last election in 2008, so the president-elect may well have missed out on our advice the last time around. But Peter Drucker often used presidents as case studies in leadership (both in success and failure), and in 1993, as Bill Clinton was settling into office, Drucker wrote up what he called “Six Rules For Presidents,” an essay that appears in Managing in a Time of Great Change.

Photo credit: Paola Frogheri

For Drucker, being an effective president meant abiding by the following:

1. “What must be done? is the first question the president must ask.” That might sound obvious, but in reality, as Drucker pointed out, many presidents are loath to recognize that “the world always changes between election day and inauguration day.” They have to readjust their priorities and often defer their original goals.

2. “Concentrate, don’t splinter yourself.” Drucker noted that there were always a dozen good answers to what needs to be done. “Yet,” he added, “unless the president makes the risky and controversial choice of only one, he will achieve nothing.”

3. “Don’t ever bet on a sure thing.” This is another way of saying don’t let success go to your head and overstretch.  Don’t, as FDR did, interpret your election landslide as a mandate to pack the Supreme Court.

4. “An effective president does not micromanage.” Jimmy Carter was known to handle things as minor as use of the White House tennis court. Don’t be your own chief operating officer. To avoid this, Drucker said, a president “needs a small team of highly disciplined people, each with clear operating responsibility for one area.”

5. “A president has no friends in the administration.” That is a rule that very, very few presidents have followed, but Drucker considered it crucial to avoid having buddies working for you. “At best, they are suspected of running around their official superiors and to their Great Friend,” Drucker wrote. “At worst, they are known as the president’s spies.” Teddy Roosevelt, for one, avoided this friend temptation.

6. “Once you’re elected you stop campaigning.” This, according to Drucker, was what Harry Truman told president-elect John F. Kennedy.  We suspect all Americans would welcome such a break now.

What do you think? What is the most important rule for an effective president to follow (either from Drucker’s list or your own)—and why?

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