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Presidential Advisory Board

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Does the President of the United States have an Advisory Board?

Yes, the President's Cabinet Members can and should serve as an Advisory Board. The President is the CEO of his organization (the Executive Branch of the United States of America) and as with any CEO, the composition, personalities, styles, and competence of his Advisory Board, the Cabinet Secretaries, can and should influence the CEO to be better informed, more accurate, with far more objectivity in making vital decisions that affect the lives of millions and millions domestically and internationally.

What are the primary functions of Presidential Cabinet Members?

Besides the important responsibilities associated with running specific departments of government, Presidential Cabinet Members are supposed to be official advisors to the President. In defining the term "advisor," the Merriam Webster dictionary refers to such descriptive terms as "counsel," "inform," and "recommend;" but it also associates "advisor" with such words as "warn" and "caution."

Does the Cabinet adequately "warn" the President, and does the President usually listen?

Most CEO's have relatively large egos, and Presidents of the United States are certainly no exception. When harnessed, a large ego can be an asset for a top leader, but quite often an excessive ego will prevent a leader from genuinely listening to the advice of others--in this case, U.S. Presidents have relied less and less on the advice of their Cabinet advisors. Albeit the Cabinet is still a key element of Executive Branch leadership, this advisory body has typically declined in its influence upon Presidential decision making. Beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, Presidents have tended to rely on the National Security Council or the Executive Office of the President, rather than on the Cabinet. Non-Cabinet officials such as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Advisor, and the White House Chief of Staff, appear to have a greater role than Cabinet Members in advising the U.S. President. One might ask, does the President genuinely listen to these individuals either, or does the President tend to use them as conduits for expressing his own opinions and/or discourage them from challenging him or warning him of the negative consequences of his actions and decisions?

If the President does listen, to whom is he listening?

Let's look at how Cabinet Members are identified and selected? When elected, quite often U.S. Presidents are guilty of cronyism or even nepotism. Presidents tend to appoint their friends to high positions. Such friends may or may not be excellent advisors who will challenge the President. Because a President will appoint friends (or relatives such as Bobby Kennedy, the brother of John F. Kennedy), one could argue that such "friends" will think the same way as does the President. If so, they could easily become "yes men" instead of advisors who are truly objective--when the President listens to them, is he merely listening to his own point of view?

How should the President identify and select proper Cabinet Members?

In both the public sector and private sector, Advisory Board Members can be identified and recruited who will challenge (diplomatically) the CEO and simultaneously command the respect of the CEO, so that he actually does listen to them. Our 2008 Cornerstone Management Opinion Survey of top leaders from the world's largest corporations (see http://www.cornerstone-group.com/links.php ) found that a high percentage of new Board Members were recruited by CEO's using outside consultancies and retained executive search firms to fill vacancies. This trend is not limited to the private sector. Prominent members of the retained executive search profession (sometimes called "headhunters") have been used by both Democrat and Republican U.S. Presidents to recruit qualified captains of industry for key positions in Washington, D.C., including the most senior Cabinet levels. Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have used retained executive search consultants for this purpose.

What do retained search firms seek when recruiting Advisory Board Members (or U.S. Cabinet Members)?

To command the respect of the President, a Cabinet Member must have achieved a recognized level of success and prominence in his or her field. For instance, business celebrities such as Jack Walsh or Lee Iacocca might have sufficient "clout" that the President would listen to them. Retained search firms should seek personality traits and documentable accomplishments proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the new Advisor/Cabinet Member will have a better chance of gaining the ear of the President in such a way that he actually respects the advice. Conspicuous traits might include the highest level of command presence, tremendous charisma, clear and convincing communication skills, patience and persistence, and the persuasive style that allows the President to accept ideas as though they were his own.

How difficult is it for a retained search firm to attract these exceptional people?

The challenge is not only to identify these special leaders, but it is equally if not more difficult to attract these superstars to be Cabinet Members or Presidential Advisors. The smart ones know how awkward it can be to undergo the screening process, especially at the Cabinet level, which entails confirmation or rejection by the United States Senate; and they know how the press may give them little, if any, privacy.

What other qualifications should a retained search firm seek in recruiting for Cabinet positions?

Without the encumbrances of excessive bureaucratic paperwork, Sarbanes-Oxley requirements should be considered. For instance, if the Secretary of the Treasury lacks a background on the accounting side of finance, then perhaps a leader should be recruited who can serve as the accounting/audit watch dog to assist the President to be more fiscally responsible. Also, without allowing tokenism to lower the hiring standards, diversity should be a consideration. For example, since 1933, only 16 Cabinet Members have been female--in recent years, Elizabeth Dole, Madeleine Albright, and Condolezza Rice have served on the President's Cabinet. As someone who specializes heavily in conducting Board Searches (Boards of Directors, Boards of Trustees, Boards of Governors, and Advisory Boards), I have noticed that a large percentage of Board searches require or prefer a female or an ethnic minority candidate merely for appearances; hence, Boards may sacrifice quality in order to achieve diversity. Ironically, they can have both quality and diversity; hence, if the President relies on a retained executive search firm to recruit Cabinet Members, he should allow the search firm the extra time to identify and attract genuinely competent minority candidates.

C. William Guy, II is the Chairman & Chief Executive of Cornerstone International Group, Global Advisors to CEO's and Boards. Their website is cornerstone-group.com.