If choosing a president were like hiring a CEO...

The contenders...
NextNationalCEO.com invites visitors to rank the candidates -- not on their policy proposals, but on their leadership skills.
Image courtesy of NextNationalCEO.com

Say you're a major corporation, and you're in the market for a new CEO. You don't just put an ad in the paper. You hire a firm to help you identify and screen potential candidates, a firm like Personnel Decisions International (PDI), based in Minneapolis.

One of the things PDI tries to do is get inside a potential CEO's head. They'll spend two days with a candidate building a psychological profile, including conducting interviews, administering tests, and they'll even engage in a game of make-believe.

"These candidates get to play the role of being the CEO of a fictitious company," said Stuart Crandell, a vice president at PDI, "and they are then engaging with people from PDI, playing the role of the chairman of the board or an analyst on Wall Street."

The point of all this is to figure out whether these would-be corporate titans have what it takes to be a leader.

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"When people are in difficult situations, when they're up against crises, they will generally revert to the way they typically are -- their character, their style," Crandell said.

Of course, our country is in the process of choosing a new leader at the moment.

"We thought that many of the attributes that lead to a successful CEO might also apply to the role of the president," Crandell said.

So, they created a Web site. NextNationalCEO.com is pretty simple. You rate the candidates on a variety of leadership characteristics. You choose which qualities are most important to you. And then it tells you how everyone else rated the candidates. That's the whole thing.

It doesn't actually tell you whom to vote for. So what does that exercise teach you about the candidates?

Who better to give it a test drive than two CEOs?

Minnesota Public Radio invited Bil MacLeslie and Lynne Megan to take the quiz. MacLeslie runs the Minneapolis tech firm ipHouse, and Megan heads up the Roseville non-profit TSE, Inc., which helps disabled people find jobs.

Lynne Megan navigates her Web browser to NextNationalCEO.com.

The faces of four candidates pop up on the screen: Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Bill MacLeslie clicks Obama first. A box pops up.

"There's a list of objectives," MacLeslie said, reading from the screen, "and the objectives are: visionary, insightful judgment, inspires others, good judge of people, influences others, gets things done, courageous, energetic, confident and trustworthy."

MacLeslie gives Obama a top score for vision. He moves down the list.

"Insightful judgment, I would say he does not have that," he said. "Insightful means, I can see something before it happens. If he was aspiring to be the leader of the free world, then he probably would have distanced himself from certain situations earlier, like the minister [Rev. Jeremiah Wright]."

Megan says Obama is great at inspiring others, but she is pulling for Clinton.

"Energy, she is a five with energy," Megan said. "Confident, I believe she's great, and trustworthy, I will give her a four."

She finishes rating Clinton. "Good luck, Hillary," she said.

Neither Megan nor MacLeslie knows enough about Ron Paul to give him a rating.

John McCain wins easily when it comes to courage.

"You know, prisoner of war?" MacLeslie said. "None of us can compare!"

Even though she's a Democrat, Megan gives McCain pretty high marks, too.

"Gets things done? I think that at the Senate level he's done well with that. We'll go great," she said. "He's helped move people within his party to go places."

Both of our CEOs spend a lot of time deliberating over their choices. And they said they liked the quiz -- even though there is not a word in the entire thing about what the candidates want to do if they are elected.

"You have to have leadership first to be able to take on all the activities that [are] required of a president," Megan said.

Stuart Crandell, the guy who helped develop the quiz, said that is the whole idea: Whether it's business or politics, issues are important, but they're not everything.

"We see CEO candidates who have, in some ways, the right positions on issues -- the right strategies. Some of them are successful and some of them are not," Crandell said.

Voters recognize that, too. A recent CBS News poll showed 48 percent of Americans said a candidate's personal qualities were their biggest concern. Only 40 percent said issues were the biggest factor for them.